New Jersey Consumer Fraud Should be Liberally Construed


The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act should be liberally construed to effectuate its remedial purpose. The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act was passed in 1960 to permit the Attorney General to combat the increasingly widespread practice of defrauding the consumer. Cox v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 138 N.J. 2, 14 (1994) (quoting Senate Committee, Statement to the Senate Bill No. 199 [1960].) The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-2, states:

“Any act, use or employment by any person of any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false promise, misrepresentation, or the knowing concealment, suppression or omission, of material fact with intent that others rely upon such concealment, suppression, or omission in conjunction with the sale . . . or with the subsequent performance of such person as aforesaid, whether or not any person has, in fact, been misled, deceived or damaged thereby, is declared to be an unlawful practice.

The Consumer Fraud Act was initially designed to combat sharp practices and dealings that victimize consumers by luring them into purchases through fraudulent or deceptive means. Id. at 16. See also Lemelledo v. Beneficial Management, 289 N.J. Super. 489, 495 (App. Div. 1995). In 1971 it was specifically amended to include a private cause of action with treble damages, giving New Jersey one of the strongest consumer protection laws in the nation. Cox at 15, Lemelledo at 495. Quoting Governor’s Press Release for Assembly Bill No. 2402, at 1 (April 19, 1971): “The Consumer Fraud Act is no longer aimed solely at shifty, fast-talking and deceptive merchants, but reaches non-soliciting artisans as well.” Thus, the Act is designed to protect the public, even when a merchant acts in good faith. Cox at 16.

Both the New Jersey Supreme Court and the Legislature have declared that the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is a remedial statute and, as such, should be construed liberally in favor of consumers. Cox at 16. The Legislative history supports this conclusion, evidenced by two significant Amendments to the Act. In 1962, the Act was amended to include a cause of action for “deceptive practices”. Also, in 1975, the Legislature amended the Act to include unlawful practices in the sale and advertisement of real estate. An analysis of relevant New Jersey law supports the proposition that the Consumer Fraud Act should be interpreted liberally in an expansive fashion to protect the consumer for potentially deceptive conduct.

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