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Maple Hill Farms Inc. v. Division of New Jersey Real Estate Commission

Decided: April 25, 1961.


Goldmann, Foley and Lewis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lewis, J.A.D.


[67 NJSuper Page 225] Appellants J. Hannon Hughes, a licensed real estate broker, and his licensed corporate instrumentality, Maple Hill Farms, Inc., bring this appeal to review an order and determination of the New Jersey Real Estate Commission (R.R. 4:88-8(a)) revoking the real estate broker's license of J. Hannon Hughes. The Commission found, after notice and hearing, that the appellant J. Hannon Hughes was guilty of making false promises (in violation of N.J.S.A. 45:15-17(a)) and that his conduct demonstrated bad faith and unworthiness (in violation of N.J.S.A. 45:15-17(e)). The penalty imposed was the revocation of his broker's license (which had the effect of also revoking the license of his company because of the statutory requirement that the license of a corporation shall cease if

at least one officer does not hold a license as a broker) effective May 1, 1960. This court, with the consent of the Attorney General, issued a stay of the revocation order without prejudice to the right of the Commission to summarily revoke, without further notice or hearing, any conditional renewable licenses granted to the appellants because of the existence of the stay, provided that the judgment or order of the Commission, which is the subject of this appeal, shall be affirmed.

Appellants contend that the evidence was inadequate to support the findings of the Commission, the evidence did not justify a revocation of the brokers' licenses, the charges did not relate to activities connected with the pursuit of their licensed privileges, and that the Commission erred when it recommended that the appellant Hughes effect a reasonable settlement with the complainant.

The judicial power to review the determinations of an administrative agency and, if necessary, to make independent findings is beyond question. R.R. 4:88-13, 1:5-4(b) and 2:5. Where the findings of the Real Estate Commission have been supported by adequate evidence, they have been sustained, Middleton v. Div., etc., Dept. of Banking and Ins. , 39 N.J. Super. 214 (App. Div. 1956); absent such evidence, they have been reversed, Zachariae v. New Jersey Real Estate Comm. , 53 N.J. Super. 60 (App. Div. 1958); and where the findings have been improper in form they have been modified accordingly, Goodley v. New Jersey Real Estate Comm. , 29 N.J. Super. 178 (App. Div. 1954).

The scope of judicial review is well charted. The court will not presume to substitute its judgment for that of a quasi-judicial body where there is proof to support its conclusion. Dutcher v. Department of Civil Service , 7 N.J. Super. 156, 163 (App. Div. 1950); Lakewood Express Serv. v. Board of Public U. Com'rs. , 1 N.J. 45, 52 (1948). It is not the function of the courts to weigh the evidence, to determine the credibility of witnesses, to draw inferences and conclusions from the evidence, and to resolve conflicts

therein. Hornauer v. Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control , 40 N.J. Super. 501, 504 (App. Div. 1956), and the quotation therein from Chief Justice Vanderbilt's analysis of developments in administrative law written for the 1946 Annual Survey of American Law (N.Y.U. School of Law) , 187, 229. Where an administrative agency has acted within its authority, "sympathetic sweep" is given to the rule that its actions will generally not be upset unless there is an affirmative showing that its judgment was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Borough of East Paterson v. Civil Service Dept. of N.J. , 47 N.J. Super. 55, 65 (App. Div. 1957). The now generally accepted gauge of administrative factual finality is whether the finding is supported by substantial evidence. In re Larsen , 17 N.J. Super. 564, 576 (App. Div. 1952). Our review of the record should be within the pattern of these decisions.

On August 12, 1959 John H. Wichser, Jr., made a verified complaint to the Real Estate Commission against the plaintiffs. He alleged, in substance, that in June 1958 he purchased a lot from J. Hannon Hughes, a licensed real estate broker, trading as Maple Hill Farms, Inc.; the selling price was $2,500; Hughes verbally agreed to share the estimated expense of $500 for filling, grading and seeding the lot; he instructed Hughes to engage a reliable contractor to do the work and, after much delay, the work was finally completed June 25, 1959; when Hughes was contacted for payment of his share he denied any agreement and refused to pay; Wichser paid the entire bill of $453; and Hughes has refused to reimburse him for $226.50, his equal share. The complaint did not mention the written agreement between the parties dated June 14, 1958, and it did not state the specific date of the alleged oral agreement other than the allegation that it was made in "June 1958."

The testimony of the appellant Hughes was that the property had been offered to Wichser "at $3,000, or $2,500 as is. He had his choice," and that appellants were willing

to sell it either way "$3,000 and we would put the dirt in, or $2,500 as is." He further testified "There was a discussion -- well, I would say prior to the signing of the agreement of sale, we had discussed it back and forth, as to what it would cost to fill the lot, and then the price was given to him both ways." Hughes denied the oral promise as stated by Wichser. Hughes' version was:

"Q. Did you ever, at anytime, promise Mr. Wichser that you would be in any way financially responsible for any ...

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