Justia Consumer Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court
Humphries v. Powder Mill Shopping Plaza
The Supreme Court consolidated this case with "Walker v. Guiffre" because it implicated the state's fee-shifting statutes. The Appellate Division found that the trial court's analysis of the reasonableness of Plaintiff's attorneys' hourly rate in "Walker" did not satisfy the analysis found in "Rendine v. Pantzer" (141 N.J. 292 (1995)). The Supreme Court considered whether the "Rendine" framework had been altered by the United States Supreme Court's decision in "Perdue v. Kenny A." (130 S.Ct. 1662 (2010)). The Court concluded that the mechanism for awarding attorneys' fees (including contingency enhancements) as adopted in "Rendine" remain in full force and effect as the governing principles for awards made pursuant to New Jersey fee-shifting statutes. View "Humphries v. Powder Mill Shopping Plaza" on Justia Law
Walker v. Guiffre
Plaintiff May Walker alleged that Defendant Carmelo Guiffre violated the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) and the Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA). After finding that Defendant violated the CFA and TCCWNA, the trial court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to a fee award. The trial court fixed the lodestar amount and applied a forty-five percent contingency enhancement. The Appellate Division found that the trial court's analysis of the reasonableness of Plaintiff's attorneys' hourly rate, based only on the judge's personal experience, did not satisfy the analysis found in "Rendine v. Pantzer" (141 N.J. 292 (1995)). In this appeal, the Supreme Court considered whether the "Rendine" framework had been altered by the United States Supreme Court's decision in "Perdue v. Kenny A. (130 S.Ct. 1662 (2010)). The Court concluded that the mechanism for awarding attorneys' fees (including contingency enhancements) as adopted in "Rendine" remain in full force and effect as the governing principles for awards made pursuant to New Jersey fee-shifting statutes. View "Walker v. Guiffre" on Justia Law
Gonzalez v. Wilshire Credit Corp.
Plaintiff Blanca Gonzalez, and Monserate Diaz purchased a home as tenants in common. Diaz borrowed the downpayment from Cityscape Mortgage Corporation (Cityscape) and executed a note. Plaintiff did not sign the note. Plaintiff and Diaz secured that loan by mortgaging their home to Cityscape. Over time, Plaintiff fell behind on the payments and U.S. Bank obtained a foreclosure judgment. The trial court ordered that the home be sold to satisfy the judgment. Before the sheriff’s sale, Plaintiff entered into a written agreement with Defendant Wilshire Credit Corporation (Wilshire), U.S. Bank’s servicing agent. Plaintiff was represented by a Legal Services attorney who helped negotiate the agreement. Plaintiff missed four payments to Wilshire. A scheduled sheriff’s sale was cancelled when the parties entered into a second agreement. Plaintiff was contacted and dealt with directly; neither Wilshire nor U.S. Bank notified the Legal Services attorney. Although Plaintiff had not missed a single payment required by the second agreement, instead of dismissing the foreclosure action as promised, Wilshire sent a letter to Plaintiff noting that the second agreement was about to expire and that a new agreement needed to be negotiated to avoid foreclosure. Plaintiff contacted the Legal Services attorney. When the attorney questioned Wilshire, it could not explain how it had come to the arrears amount set in the second agreement, or why Plaintiff was not deemed current on the loan. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that Wilshire and U.S. Bank engaged in deceptive and unconscionable practices in violation of the CFA. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Wilshire and U.S. Bank, finding that the CFA did not apply to post-judgment settlement agreements entered into to stave off a foreclosure sale. The Appellate Division reversed and reinstated plaintiff’s CFA claim. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the post-foreclosure-judgment agreements in this case constituted stand-alone extensions of credit. In fashioning and collecting on such a loan, a lender or its servicing agent cannot use unconscionable practices in violation of the CFA.
Allen v. V & A Bros., Inc.
Plaintiffs William and Vivian Allen contracted defendant V and A Brothers, Inc. (V&A) to landscape their property and build a retaining wall to enable the installation of a pool. At the time, V&A was wholly owned by two brothers, Defendants Vincent DiMeglio, who subsequently passed away, and Angelo DiMeglio. The corporation also had one full-time employee, Defendant Thomas Taylor. After V&A completed the work, Plaintiffs filed a two-count complaint naming both corporate and individual defendants. The first count was directed solely to V&A and alleged that the corporation breached its contract with Plaintiffs by improperly constructing the retaining wall and using inferior backfill material. The second count was directed to the corporation and Vincent's estate, Angelo, and Taylor individually, alleging three "Home Improvement Practices" violations of the state Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). Before trial, the trial court granted the individual defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint against them, holding that the CFA did not create a direct cause of action against the individuals. Plaintiffs' remaining claims were tried and the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs on all counts, awarding damages totaling $490,000. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court's order dismissing the claims against the individual defendants under the CFA. The panel remanded the matter to determine whether any of the individual defendants had personally participated in the regulatory violations that formed the basis for Plaintiffs' CFA complaint. The panel precluded relitigation of the overall quantum of damages found by the jury in the trial against the corporate defendant. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that employees and officers of a corporation might be individually liable under the CFA for acts they undertake through the corporate entity. Furthermore, individual defendants are not collaterally estopped from relitigating the quantum of damages attributable to the CFA violations. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings.