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Williams v. Gorman

Decided: December 11, 1986.

JOYCE WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT GORMAN, DEFENDANT, AND COMMUNITY REALTY MANAGEMENT, IRWIN YEAGLE, AND THE MANSIONS APARTMENTS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County.

J. H. Coleman and R. S. Cohen. The opinion of the court was delivered by J. H. Coleman, J.A.D.

Coleman

Plaintiff appeals from a partial summary judgment dismissing the first and third counts of her complaint which alleged tort claims against a landlord and others for damages caused by a tenant. Plaintiff resided in the Mansion Apartments in which defendant Gorman was her upstairs neighbor. The first count of the complaint alleged that Gorman engaged in disruptive and assaultive conduct in February 1979, September 19, 1980 and September 13, 1982 which caused plaintiff to sustain bodily injuries and property damages. That count also alleged that the Mansion Apartments, Community Realty Management and Irwin Yeagle, the corporate and resident managers respectively of the apartment complex, were negligent because they failed to take appropriate remedial action such as evicting Gorman. The second count alleged breach of implied warranty of habitability and quiet enjoyment. The third count alleged willful failure to provide adequate security. Following a trial on the alleged breach of implied warranty of habitability and quiet enjoyment, the trial judge entered judgment for plaintiff and awarded her damages of $133 based upon an abatement of her rent from January 1, 1981 to October 31, 1983, when Gorman was evicted. No appeal has been taken from the rent abatement portion of the final judgment. We now affirm the entry of partial summary judgment.

The crucial question raised on this appeal is whether defendants had a duty to evict Gorman before plaintiff sustained personal injuries or property damages. Based upon the depositions,

interrogatories and exhibits which the trial judge considered at the time partial summary judgment was granted, the following facts appear. After Gorman moved into his apartment in August 1978, plaintiff observed that there was continual drug traffic in and out of Gorman's apartment, that members of the Pagan Motorcycle Gang frequented it, and that Gorman had violent fights with his wife.

The first incident specified in the complaint occurred in February 1979, when some members of the motorcycle gang had a fight in Gorman's apartment. At one point plaintiff heard some heavy furniture being thrown, whereupon a chandelier in her apartment fell from the ceiling and broke a glass table top. Plaintiff spent $300 to replace the glass. Plaintiff reported this incident to Irene O'Grady, an employee of Community Realty Management, who promised that Gorman would be evicted. Plaintiff also called the police, who told her that they had already received other complaints; the police came but did not arrest anyone that night.

A second incident occurred in September 1980 when a gunshot blast from Gorman's apartment blew a hole in plaintiff's ceiling. Though she was not shot, the force of the blast, in her words, "blew me clear across the room, and I hit my face against my dining room chair and the floor." Some chairs were damaged as well. She suffered a lacerated eye and damage to her nose which ultimately required surgery. Plaintiff reported the gunshot incident to the police, as a result of which Gorman was arrested and convicted of discharging a firearm. He was incarcerated from November 1980 until late 1982. Plaintiff also reported the incident to Community Realty Management, which again promised that they would take action against Gorman. They sent him a "Lease Violation Report" but took no further steps.

The third incident described in the complaint was in September 1982, when, during a violent fight between Gorman and his wife, some "ceramic letters" were dislodged from the wall

above plaintiff's daughter, who was sleeping at the time. The "ceramic letters" struck her on the head and required her to receive emergency hospital care. Plaintiff again called the police. Apparently before the police arrived, Gorman tried to break into plaintiff's apartment with a crowbar and threatened to kill her.

In December 1982 plaintiff obtained counsel, who demanded that Community Realty take some action. Finally, by letter dated January 14, 1983 Community Realty notified Gorman's wife that her husband was prohibited from entering the premises. Community Realty formally terminated the Gorman lease and the Gormans were finally evicted.

As a result of the 1979 and 1980 incidents, plaintiff claimed personal property damages of $900 and wage losses of between $18,000 and $22,000 per year. Plaintiff has not itemized any claimed medical expenses. Plaintiff has not made a ...


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