NJ Appeals Court Acknowledged Plaintiff’s Cognizable Palimony Claim, Yet Found Plaintiff Failed to Timely Appeal

Terranova v. Estate of Stuart Paer, et al., 2017 WL 5507957, No. A-4221-15T4 (N.J. App. Div. Nov. 17, 2017).

Plaintiff appealed from a Family Part order dismissing her complaint for palimony for failure to state a claim.  The appeals court affirmed.  According to plaintiff, Paer supported her financially in lavish lifestyle throughout the fifteen-year relationship, and promised on numerous occasions that he would always take care of her and support her for life.  In reliance on Paer’s promises, plaintiff abandoned her career opportunities.  She maintained their various homes, helped raise his two daughters, and cared for Paer after his stage four liver cirrhosis diagnosis.  Despite such promises, plaintiff was not a beneficiary of Paer’s will.  Instead, Paer’s two daughters were named residuary beneficiaries of his will.  Plaintiff was named as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy, which provided her with $60,000 in death benefits.

Plaintiff filed in the Family Part a complaint for palimony and other equitable relief against the estate and its beneficiaries.  The Family Part judge dismissed the palimony count of plaintiff’s complaint on the basis that it was barred under the Statute of Frauds, N.J.S.A. §25:1-5(h).

On appeal, plaintiff argued that she should not be barred from pursuing her palimony claim because of an erroneous interpretation of law.  Plaintiff argued that the court misapplied State v. Burstein, 85 N.J. 394 (1981), because Maeker v. Ross (Maeker II), 219 N.J. 565 (2014), governs wherein the Supreme Court held that the 2010 amendment to the Statute of Frauds did not apply retroactively to void oral palimony agreements that predated its enactment.

The Appellate Division acknowledged that under Maeker II, plaintiff’s palimony claim would have been cognizable.  However, the salutary purpose behind the rule of finality was not overcome, where plaintiff failed to timely appeal of her 2013 final judgment, sat on her rights from 2013 to 2014 while Maeker II was litigated in the Supreme Court, and commenced an action two years after the Supreme Court rendered its decision.

Accordingly, the Court found it inappropriate to circumvent the jurisprudence so clearly developed under Rule 4:50-1.