Appealing From a Contempt of Court Order in a Civil Case

HNWAdditional Practice Areas

court orderSometimes Judges impose seemingly harsh decisions which can include (at times) sanctions for monetary penalties and mandatory participation in programs and/or court sanction organizations.   Appealing contempt of Court in a Civil case is seldom discussed and well understood by parties to litigation as well as many of their attorneys.

I have decided to give you a brief introduction to this topic in this post.

A proceeding to enforce litigants’ rights under Rule 1:10-3 is essentially a civil proceeding to coerce a defendant into compliance with the court’s order for the benefit of the private litigant. Thus, an application for relief under Rule 1:10-3 is distinguishable from a criminal contempt proceeding which is ‘essentially criminal’ in nature and is instituted for the purpose of punishing a defendant who fails to comply with a court order. Accordingly, relief under Rule 1:10-3, whether it be the imposition of incarceration or a sanction, is not for the purpose of punishment, but as a sanction intending to be a coercive measure to facilitate the enforcement of the court order.”

An Appellate Court will review a trial court’s imposition of sanctions against a litigant pursuant to the “abuse of discretion standard”.  “An abuse of discretion” arises when a decision is made without a certification in opposition to a plaintiff’s motion.

In a recent published case a defendant filed an appeal challenging two earlier orders and was in the process of seeking to stay these orders pending appeal when the plaintiff filed another Rule 1:10-3 application. The Appellate Court was unable to conclude that defendant’s delay in paying the sanctions was willfully contemptuous.

A trial judge who handles contempt motions must set forth findings of fact to impose sanctions rather than just setting forth the facts which first led to the court’s decision.  A judge cannot merely state he/she is granting the motion for the reasons set forth in plaintiff’s pleadings. Such an approach does not constitute adequate fact finding.  In In re Trust Created by Agreement Dated December 20, 1961, 399 N.J. Super. 237, 253-54 (App. Div. 2006), aff’d, 194 N.J. 276 (2008). The Appellant court held that a trial judge may grant or deny a motion for the reasons offered by the parties only if “the judge makes such reliance explicit”; makes “clear the extent of his or her agreement with and reliance on the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law”; and “supplie(s) a summary of his or her findings in the opinion” that clearly demonstrates “that the trial judge carefully considered the evidentiary record and did not abdicate his or her decision-making responsibility.”

To discuss your NJ Appeal matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County, NJ Appeals Attorney

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