New Jersey Consumer Class Actions Lawsuits
Class Actions lawsuits are a method where one individual acts on behalf of many individuals who have a very similar claim. As an example, a bank or a credit card company charges an improper fee, a small fee, to all bank or credit card customers. This would be a situation that would lend itself to a class action. A case is filed as a class action but must be certified or approved by the Court. The Court then has to approve any settlement and any notice to the class agreed upon by the lawyers. In order to be certified there are several requirements. The plaintiff's claim must be similar in many ways to the other, absent, class members to be fair to the defendant and the absent class members.
Class Action lawsuits have become a common sight in the civil system, both at the state and federal level. Thousands of class actions are filed every year, both high profile and non-discreet.
Class action Lawsuits under New Jersey Law are permitted as a device to permit one person to act on behalf of others who are similarly situated. This person is known as a class action representative. This representative has various duties to the class in a fiduciary capacity. The New Jersey Court Rules make reference to various requirements to permit this individual person to act on behalf of all the other persons similarly situated. Frequently individuals proffer the same question: don’t you need many individuals to have a class action? No, the point of a class action is to have one person rather than numerous individuals, and this one individual can act on their behalf. This person is only permitted to act as a class action representative, on the other person’s behalf, if he has completed a strict set of requirements which is reviewed and approved by the Court. Not anybody can be a class action representative. There have been to very stringent requirements, as set forth by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
New Jersey law favors the certification of class actions in consumer cases. There have been numerous cases certified by various New Jersey courts as class actions. This includes many consumer class actions.
The first stage would be to file a class action complaint/lawsuit in the individual capacity, requesting to act on behalf of others similarly situated. This is typical of all civil claims filed in New Jersey. During this process, discovery would be undertaken by the defendants and the requested class representative, both as to the merits of the claim and the class certification requirements. Then, after the discovery is completed under the class certification requirements, the plaintiff’s law firm requests the court approve this individual as a class representative and approve the matter as a class action. After the matter is approved as a class action and the class action representative is approved, notice is provided to the members of the class. The matter then proceeds to trial or ultimately settles.
The class action rule is very powerful in that it permits a consumer with a small, but typical, claim to have a significant impact on the way a defendant does business or for such business to return any ill-gotten profits.
The following addressed a class action that was filed against an apartment complex.
The following was submitted to the court in a case which was filed alleging that an apartment complex is liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, and liable for the plaintiff’s damages as a result of failing to enforce a no pet provision in rental agreements with the plaintiff and other individuals who lived in the apartment complex.
The plaintiff was injured when the plaintiff was attacked and mauled by a large dog. The plaintiff sued for personal injuries. The plaintiff also sued for violations of the New Jersey consumer fraud act and for breach of contract. The plaintiff alleged that the apartment complex refused to, and continue to refuse to, enforce a no pet provision policy in the rental agreements with the tenants. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant apartment complex refused to require tenants to obtain renters insurance despite the fact that there was a provision in all of the rental agreements for the tenants to obtain renters insurance.
The matter was also filed as a class action as a class-action a consumer attorney must be knowledgeable of the procedures available under the New Jersey class-action laws. A class action or consumer attorney can litigate these matters.
The plaintiff requested damages for the defendant’s failure to remove the dogs when there was a no pet provision. The plaintiff requested that the dogs be removed from the premises. The plaintiff took the position that all the tenants were entitled to have the lease complied with which included no pets.
The plaintiff filed a numerous claim including breach of contract, consumer fraud, breach of good faith and fair dealings, and negligence. The plaintiff filed the summary judgment motion the defendants filed a cross motion and the plaintiff replied which is set forth below.
Please accept the following in response to the defendants’ opposition to the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and opposition to the defendants’ cross motion for summary judgment filed by the non-John Does Apartments Complex Apartment defendants.
The plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should be granted. The defendants cross motion should be denied The defendants have failed to raise any material issues of fact, or posit fact-based legal arguments in opposition to the plaintiff's claims.
The defendants assert that negligence claims should be dismissed. The plaintiff asserts negligence based claims from injuries sustained from a dog attack by a Pit Bull. The plaintiff has not filed for summary judgment on the negligence issues. Thus, there is no issue to be decided by the court on count I, and any cross motion is moot.
However, the defendants rely upon the arguments set forth in pages five through seven of their brief, regarding the negligence claims, to support arguments that all of the remaining claims should be dismissed. The defendants fail to set forth any material fact or rely upon precedent which would prohibit the court from granting summary judgment on any claims asserted by the plaintiff. The defendants factual submissions are of no consequence.
Even presumed as truthful, they do not warrant a denial of any of the plaintiff’s substantive motions. The defendants meekly assert, they did the best they could to stop pets from occupying the premises. They assert that if they see an animal they would send a notice to cease to the owner. However, the defendants fail to submit any notice to cease in conjunction with their opposition. The plaintiff had submitted a mountain of deposition testimony and documentary evidence from a prior lawsuit that the defendants were aware that there are dogs in the premises and failed to take any reasonable action have the animals removed from the premises. The defendants have failed, in any way, materially or non materially, to explain away the testimony of the numerous residents.
The defendants have failed, in any way, to explain the numerous incidents involving dogs and other animals and/or the ongoing presence of pets on their premises. There is no factual issue here. There are many pets which the defendant knew about and refused to remove. The defendant has not contested this material fact. The defendants have failed to submit a certification or testimony from any management level personnel consistent with an ongoing, substantive pet removal policy. The defendants did nothing. The defendants were aware of numerous pets. The defendants permitted those residents with pets to maintain them. This cannot be disputed.
The defendants assert breach of contract claims should be dismissed. The plaintiff has filed a motion for summary judgment on counts two and three of the fourth amended complaint. In the third and fourth count of the fourth amended complaint the plaintiff is alleges defendant failed to act in good faith and breached the lease agreement between the parties. See plaintiff's legal argument points two and four.
The defendants blindly assert without any legal analysis, application of the facts to the law or application of the law there is a question of fact presented and summary judgment should be denied. The defendants assert the same questions of material fact with regard to the negligence issues are also applicable to the breach of contract issues. This is difficult to determine since there is no legal analysis with regard to the breach of contract issues, or the negligence claims for that matter.Consumer Fraud. Defendants’
The defendants assert the plaintiff’s motion on count four of the fourth amended complaint (consumer fraud) should be denied due to questions of material fact. Unfortunately, the defendants failed to raise, address or legally argue any material facts which might be in existence. There only defense is the following: Page 11 defendants’ brief.
Whether or not the plaintiff was aware or not that the lease renewal (in 2013) contained a provision prohibiting pets is completely irrelevant. The plaintiff was under the assumption based on years of leases having NO PET provisions that NO pets were permitted at all times. The defendants have admitted that there were signed prohibiting pets in the management office and no pet signs located throughout the complex. Now, the defendant would have the court rely upon the plaintiff’s lack of specific knowledge of the specific clause in the lease despite having lived at the defendant’s premises for over 20 years and seeing affirmations of this no pet policy on a daily basis. New Jersey law presumes that when a party to an agreement signs a legal document it is presumed they have read, understood and agreed to the contents. The parol evidence rule would also prohibit altering set, defined terms of any agreement. Defendants’ argument carries no legal weight in form or substance.
It is the general rule that where a party affixes his signature to a written instrument, such as a release, a conclusive presumption arises that he read, understood and assented to its terms and he will not be heard to complain that he did not comprehend the effect of his act in signing. Peter W. Kero, Inc. v. Terminal Const. Corp., 6 N.J. 361, 368 (1951).
Again, the defendants have failed to take any personal responsibility for their actions while permitting pets on premises (for years) which were not allowed. In some way the plaintiff not having reviewed the lease acts as a defense to their deceptive conduct? This is not the law and not the facts. If the plaintiff asserted she was not sure of the rental payments and refused to pay would the defendants make the same arguments? Not possible. It was the defendants who were ignorant of the terms of the lease, not the plaintiff.
The defendants have failed to address the plaintiff’s argument on substantial aggravating factors with regard to the breach of the lease agreements. There were leases between the plaintiff and the defendants, and every one else, all which prohibited pets. The rental agreements between the other tenants and management prohibiting pets. The defendants in direct contradiction of this no pet policy and with knowledge and ratification permitted pets to wander the defendants’ premises resulting in significant danger to the residence for years. The plaintiff has relied upon a deposition of an employee who owned two dogs and was a witness to a dog bite which occurred in approximate 2011.
The defendants’ blanket assertion that there is no substantial aggravating factors with regard to breach of the lease cannot be tolerated by the court. The plaintiff has set forth and laid out a detailed explanation of the nature and extent of the defendants’ obligation and there breach thereof. The statement of material facts is peppered with deposition testimony of residents who have experienced interactions with dogs, both dangerous and none dangers, over many years.
The defendants now have the arrogance to request to have the court ignore the material facts supporting the plaintiff’s claims that the defendant never intended to enforce the no pet provision, never actually enforced the no pet provision, and accepted rent from tenants while management intentionally breached the rental agreements or at a minimum were completely reckless with regard to the no pet provision. Either set of facts is completely unacceptable. The defendants have acted with complete disregard to the tenants’ rights including the plaintiff. It is clear that the defendants do not care whether there are injuries or not injuries on their premises, animal or non-animal alike. The defendants have complete disregard for the rights of those who live on their premises and pay the rent. The defendants simply do not care about what happens.
The defendants, at best, argue proximate cause. The defendants argue that on one instance the plaintiff was unaware of a no pet provision in her lease. This is not a liability issue but this is a proximate cause issue. It is the capacity to mislead which is the prime ingredient for consumer fraud. There is no requirement that the plaintiff in fact be misled or deceived. It is the defendants conduct which is in question. The plaintiff’s conduct is not questioned nor an element of analysis.Good Faith and Fair Dealings
The defendants assert that the motion for summary judgment as to the claims for breach of good faith and fair dealings should be denied. The plaintiff has set forth extensive law and significant facts supporting the plaintiff’s claim. The defendants have relied upon the argument pertaining to negligence to support their opposition to this claim. The defendants do not provide a specific detailed analysis nor any legal basis upon which the court can rely to deny granting the plaintiff summary judgment.
Again, the defendants argue that there is some question of material fact warranting denial of the plaintiff's summary judgment motion. However, on these specific issues with regard to the lack of good faith and the performance of the contract the defendant sets forth no specific facts, no legal analysis and does not provide the court any basis to deny the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.Class Certification
The plaintiff's motion for class certification should be granted. The defendants fail to submit any substantive legal or factual argument in opposition to the plaintiff's request to certify the class. The defendants failed to cite any legal authority provide any legal analysis and make conclusions of fact that the plaintiff's claims are not typical of other class members. The only cognizable argument is that the plaintiff also maintained a personal injury action thus there was no typicality.
The class action rule should be liberally construed, and certification should be granted unless a clear showing is made that certification is inappropriate or improper. R. 4:32-1. Goasdone v. Am. Cyanamid Corp., 354 N.J. Super. 519 (Law. Div. 2002) To meet the requirement of typicality, the claims of the class members and class representatives must arise from the same event or practice or course of conduct and must be based on the same legal theory. Goasdone v. Am. Cyanamid Corp., 354 N.J. Super. 519, 530 (Law. Div. 2002) Predominance does not require that all issues be identical among class members; however, there must be a “common nucleus of facts” present. Saldana v. City of Camden, 252 N.J.Super. 188, 197, 599 A.2d 582 (App.Div.1991).
The plaintiff has a personal injury claim. The plaintiff was bitten by a dog. The plaintiff is the perfect class member as she was the victim of the asserted deceptive practice, permitting pets when they were not allowed. A better class representative cannot be put forward.
New Jersey courts have addressed the issue of the typicality and commonality issue when there are personal injury claims. New Jersey courts have held that the existence of a personal injury claim in the context of class certification does not warrant denial of the class certification.
Moreover, plaintiffs assert that they seek only economic damages, correctly noting that class members who have also suffered personal injuries as a result of using defendants' product may, if warranted, opt out and proceed independently on those issues. In re Cadillac also lends support to the position that a class may be certified where individual members of the class may have suffered personal injury. Delgozzo v. Kenny, 266 N.J. Super. 169, 187 (App. Div. 1993).
In conclusion, the defendants fail to support any factual argument with any cognizable case law. The plaintiff’s motion to certify the class action should be granted despite defendants’ assertions.
The defendants’ assertion that all claims against other entities beside John Does Apartments Complex Apartments, should be dismissed is without merit. The plaintiff sued all the aforementioned defendant on claims for negligence, breach of contract, and consumer fraud. The non John Does Apartments Complex defendants have filed motions to amend the complaint to add a third-party defendant AND have also filed a third party complaint against the dog owner.
The defendants (all of them) have levied a third-party claim against the owner of the dog. The defendants, all of them, filed a motion to bring a claim against the contractor who barricaded the plaintiff into her apartment. These same defendants have previously asserted that they had the legal right to Institute suit against non-parties. The same defendants now say that despite that they represented to the court they had a right to bring a third-party action there is no basis to sue them in this lawsuit.
This is something that should have been brought to the attention of the court when these motions were filed or when the third party complaint was filed. Technically, only John Does Apartments Complex Apartments should have filed these claims if the defendants are correct.
The defendants have asserted a position with the court which was accepted and now attempt to reverse their position and say there are no claims against them because they are not proper defendants. The defendants, however, represented to the court that they were appropriate defendants by filing third-party claims against other entities. The defendant should be equitably barred from asserting that the defendants are now not subject to liability.
The purpose of the judicial estoppel doctrine is to protect the integrity of the judicial process. Cummings v. Bahr, 295 N.J.Super. 374, 387, 685 A.2d 60 (App.Div.1996). A threat to the integrity of the judicial system sufficient to invoke the judicial estoppel doctrine only arises when a party advocates a position contrary to a position it successfully asserted in the same or a prior proceeding. Chattin v. Cape May Greene, Inc., 243 N.J.Super. 590, 620, 581 A.2d 91 (App.Div.1990), aff'd o.b., 124 N.J. 520, 591 A.2d 943 (1991); Brown v. Allied Plumbing & Heating Co., 129 N.J.L. 442, 446, 30 A.2d 290 (Sup.Ct.), aff'd, 130 N.J.L. 487, 33 A.2d 813 (E. & A.1943); Bell Atl. Network Servs., Inc. v. P.M. Video Corp., 322 N.J.Super. 74, 95, 730 A.2d 406 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 162 N.J. 130, 741 A.2d 98 (1999). To be estopped a party must have convinced the court to accept its position in the earlier litigation. A party is not bound to a position it unsuccessfully maintained.” Kimball Int'l, Inc. v. Northfield Metal Products, 334 N.J. Super. 596, 606–07 (App. Div. 2000).
The law of the case principle also prohibits the defendant from now asserting a position contrary to one it previously asserted and was accepted by the court to file a third-party complaint and file a motion to amend the complaint to bring another defendant. Application of the law of the case doctrine is restricted to preventing relitigating of the same issue in the same suit. Slowinski v. Valley Nat. Bank, 264 N.J. Super. 172, 180–81 (App. Div. 1993).
In conclusion the court should grant the plaintiff’s motions. The defendants have failed to cite relevant case law upon which the court can rely to deny the plaintiff’s motion. The defendants have failed to provide any legal analysis as to why the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment should be denied. Defendants have failed to provide any facts which would create any issues of fact. The statement of material facts submitted by the plaintiffs is not contested.
In New Jersey Class Action lawsuit vindicate consumer rights who have been wronged on a systematic wide basis and can help consumers.