Expunged Records and Negligent Hiring Claims

by | Jul 27, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On March 16, 2023, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Hudson County case of Y.H. and K.W.C. v. T.C., Uber Technologies. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 concerned resolving a conflict between the expungement statute and a statue barring rideshare companies from employing individuals with certain convictions.

Judge Whipple wrote for the appellate division in relevant part: We read N.J.S.A. 2C:52-19 to prevent the evidence of an expunged record to be used against the person for whom the expungement is meant to benefit: the recipient of the expungement. However, when it comes to third parties, the expungement statute is less clear–but it cannot unilaterally undo reality. If a cause of action requires proving a third-party’s prior knowledge of information contained within a subsequent expungement order, and refusal to admit the expunged evidence would gratuitously bar that cause of action, the expungement statute does not automatically extend that far. So long as the party seeking to introduce the evidence demonstrates good cause and a compelling need, courts cannot categorically bar admission of this evidence when offered to prove a third-party’s knowledge of the underlying facts.

Here, the motion judge ruled “evidence of or relating to T.C.’s criminal history that is the subject of an order of expungement could not be disclosed or otherwise used for any purpose.” (emphasis added). The legal effect of that rather preliminary evidence ruling eviscerated plaintiffs’ viable claim of negligent hiring. Indeed, the entry of an expungement prior to the confrontation between Y.H. and T.C., makes a showing of knowledge (the first element of a negligent hiring claim) impossible.

We find this problematic, because during argument before the motion judge, Uber’s counsel conceded the record is far from clear as to what Uber knew about T.C.’s expungement, when they knew it, or whether they knew of it at all. We do not read N.J.S.A. 2C:52-19 to give instant cover to third parties without further examination of that third-party’s conduct, duty and responsibility in a negligent hiring claim. A more robust record on this subject is necessary before Uber can assert it is entitled to rely on T.C.’s expungement. If the record demonstrates Uber was informed of the expungement prior to the events involving Y.H., it may be entitled to rely on that information as evidence of T.C.’s rehabilitation or lack of a propensity towards violence.

The January 21, 2022 order is affirmed as to T.C. The order is vacated and remanded as to Uber for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The Court’s ruling begs the question of how Uber could have known about a prospective employee’s expunged record. The employee would have been legally entitled to state that the expunged record did not exist and the underlying offense never occurred. At the same time, it is a criminal offense for anyone to knowingly disclose the existence of an expunged record to a private business.