Law Lessons from STEVEN M. ELLIOTT, individually and d/b/a ELLIOT RACING STABLE AND STANLEY FORD VS. JOHN GREEN, Individually and d/b/a PINNACLE RACING STABLE, App. Div., A-4967-11T1, May 17, 2013:
Rule 4:50-1(e) provides for relief from judgment where “the judgment or order has been satisfied, released or discharged, or a prior judgment or order upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment or order should have prospective application[.]” The rule permits relief “in changed circumstances that call the fairness of the judgment into question.” DEG, LLC v. Twp. of Fairfield, 198 N.J. 242, 265-66 (2009). In that case, the Court held that the defendant was not entitled to relief from the consent judgment under Rule 4:50-1(e) because it “made no effort whatsoever to comply with the consent judgment, let alone a good faith effort to do so.” Id. at 269.
“A motion under Rule 4:50-1 is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court, which should be guided by equitable principles in determining whether relief should be granted or denied[,]” and “[t]he decision granting or denying an application . . . will be left undisturbed unless it represents a clear abuse of discretion.” Hous. Auth. of Morristown v. Little, 135 N.J. 274, 283 (1994). The Appellate Division’s review of a trial judge’s exercise of discretion is thus quite limited.
“[J]udicial discretion” is the option which a judge may exercise between the doing and the not doing of a thing which cannot be demanded as an absolute legal right, guided by the spirit, principles and analogies of the law, and founded upon the reason and conscience of the judge, to a just result in the light of the particular circumstances of the case.
[Smith v. Smith, 17 N.J. Super. 128, 132 (App. Div. 1951), certif. denied, 9 N.J. 178 (1952).]
The exercise of “[j]udicial discretion is not unbounded and it is not the personal predilection of the particular judge.” State v. Madan, 366 N.J. Super. 98, 109 (App. Div. 2004). To constitute an abuse of discretion, however, the decision must have been “made without a rational explanation” or must have “‘inexplicably departed from established policies, or rested on an impermissible basis.’” United States v. Scurry, 193 N.J. 492, 504 (2008) (quoting Flagg v. Essex Cnty. Prosecutor, 171 N.J. 561, 571 (2002)).
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