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Kazanjian v. Atlas Novelty Co.

Decided: March 10, 1955.

BEDROS B. KAZANJIAN, TRADING AS NEW JERSEY ACME CARPET AND RUG CLEANING COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ATLAS NOVELTY CO., INC., A CORPORATION OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Conford, J.A.D.

Conford

Plaintiff, a rug merchant, sued to recover for damages to his stock of imported and domestic rugs consequent upon extensive water damage resulting from efforts of the Jersey City fire department to extinguish a fire allegedly caused by the negligence of the defendant. The parties were both commercial occupants of a building at 409 Ocean Avenue, Jersey City, the plaintiff on the first floor and the defendant on an upper floor, where the fire originated. Fifty thousand gallons of water are said to have been poured into the building, flooding plaintiff's premises and damaging some 355 of plaintiff's stock of over 3,000 rugs.

An earlier trial had resulted in an involuntary dismissal for failure of plaintiff to prove negligence on the part of the defendant. This action was reversed by the Appellate Division and the case was retried in February, 1952. At the conclusion of the trial, after refusal by the trial court to allow plaintiff to establish his damages in the manner hereinafter detailed, the court denied defendant's motion for judgment but charged the jury that if it found against the defendant on the issue of negligence, its verdict in favor of the plaintiff should be in the sum of six cents. The jury did find for the plaintiff in that amount and judgment was entered therefor April 25, 1952. A motion by the plaintiff for a new trial was filed March 4, 1952, was argued once some time in May 1952, reargued on August 10, 1954 and dismissed September 29, 1954. The basis for the motion was the alleged error in the exclusion of the proofs of damage offered at the trial by plaintiff. Notice of appeal from the judgment was filed November 5, 1954.

A preliminary procedural question first engages our attention. It is apparent that there has been a clear violation of R.R. 4:61-2 (formerly Rule 3:59-2) which, at the making of the motion for a new trial, provided that such a motion should be made and argued no later than the second motion day after entry of the verdict of the jury, unless the court for good cause shown should grant further time. No express

extension of time for argument or reargument of this motion was ever granted below and no better excuse for the inordinate delay here manifested was offered by the parties than that counsel and the trial judge could not agree upon a mutually satisfactory date and place for the reargument and that the trial judge was ill for a time in the interim. There is thus presented a case of gross disregard by counsel for a rule of court which might well warrant the sanction of dismissal of this appeal, were it not for the substantial amount involved, the grave injury to the plaintiff in such a course, and the equal responsibility of counsel for both parties to have acted or insisted upon action in compliance with the rule.

It is of course true that the rules are but a mechanism for attaining the end of substantial justice. See Morsey v. Erle , 4 N.J. 276, 281 (1950); Grobart v. Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures , 2 N.J. 136, 152 (1949). And our courts have shown continuous solicitude for the requirements of justice in each case rather than concern for compliance with rules for the mere sake of compliance. But rules designed to accomplish reasonable dispatch in the administration of litigation are for the benefit of all who come into the courts. "Liberality in procedure has limits" which if permitted to be lightly or habitually transgressed in the name of substantial justice can well lead to "procedural chaos." See Schnitzer, Civil Practice and Procedure (Survey of New Jersey Law , 1949-1950), 5 Rutgers L. Rev. 295 (1950). The casual attitude toward a most salutary rule of practice by counsel in this case merits and has the firm condemnation of the court.

We proceed to the merits. Testimony was offered at the trial to indicate that about a month after the fire written inventory memoranda of the rugs damaged were prepared for the plaintiff by the New Jersey Carpet Cleaning Company and its representative, Henry L. Berman & Company. These showed the lot numbers, taken from tags on the rugs, and the type and size of each of the individual rugs. Thereafter plaintiff, who has been in the business of buying and selling

rugs of all kinds for 40 years, met with a group of appraisers and adjusters representing himself and certain adverse insurance interests, respectively, at plaintiff's place of business, for the purpose of examining the damaged stock and agreeing upon the extent of damage, in terms of dollars of loss, to each of the rugs involved. This they proceeded to do. The procedure followed was for the entire group to inspect each rug, for the appraisers and adjusters to confer as to the amount of the loss, and for plaintiff thereupon to indicate concurrence or disagreement with the appraisal by the others. Where he dissented there was sometimes adjustment of the figure. The amount finally agreed upon as the dollar measure of damage for each rug was written as an extension on the inventory memorandum alongside the denomination of the particular item and it represented the concurrent final appraisal of all the members of the group, including the plaintiff. Plaintiff testified, in effect, that while the writing on the sheets was not his it represented his personal knowledge as to the identity of the rugs enumerated and his contemporary judgment of the damage loss caused by the water soakage.

Plaintiff testified that he could not at the trial differentiate the degree and kind of particular damage to each of the rugs individually, but that generally the damage was all one kind or another of deterioration from immersion in water, including running colors, mold and stains, and that all of the 355 rugs listed had to be dried out, washed and refinished. The dollar estimates of damage generally represented the cost of reconditioning the merchandise and, in a few cases where rehabilitation was not feasible, the difference in market value of the item before and after the fire.

At the trial it was sought to adduce proof as to the damages through the testimony of plaintiff himself. On objection, however, the trial court refused to permit plaintiff to use the memoranda in connection with his testimony, except to intimate that he might read them to himself, and then, after laying them aside, testify from his ...


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