On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Bergen County.
Pressler, Gaulkin and Baime. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gaulkin, J.A.D.
Defendant Weichert Co. Realtors (Weichert) appeals from a final judgment entered upon a jury verdict awarding $3720 to plaintiff Joan C. McLaughlin (McLaughlin).*fn1
Both McLaughlin and Weichert are real estate brokers. McLaughlin's claims were based on her proofs that she had showed John and Barbara Laski a house in Ringwood listed by the Northwest Bergen Board of Realtors (Board) multiple listing service, that she was prepared to make a purchase offer on the Laskis' behalf and had attempted to communicate with them to that end, but that the Laskis negotiated and consummated the purchase of the house through Weichert as broker. The trial judge framed two causes of action for the jury: first, a breach of contract claim arising out of Weichert's alleged violation of Board rules and regulations; second, a claim that Weichert tortiously interfered with McLaughlin's prospective economic or business advantage. The judge instructed the jury that in each cause of action McLaughlin sought the $3720
commission received by Weichert as selling broker on the sale.*fn2 On the breach of contract claim, the judge further instructed that under the Board rules and regulations, McLaughlin might be found "entitled to a portion" of the Weichert commission. The jury was not asked to return separate verdicts on each of the causes of action and, in returning its $3720 award, it did not say whether it found a breach of contract, tortious interference, or both.
We find no merit in Weichert's contention that the trial judge erred in admitting into evidence the Board rules and regulations. The argument that McLaughlin had failed to cite the rules and regulations in her answers to interrogatories is unpersuasive; as the trial judge found in rejecting the argument, Weichert's interrogatories did not invite any such citation. Nor do we find any merit in Weichert's argument that the rules and regulations were irrelevant because only its principal, James Weichert, was a member of the Board. To be sure, membership in the Board is limited to individuals. But the corporation could only lawfully conduct business through licensed individuals (N.J.S.A. 45:15-9); at least in the absence of any contrary showing it is both fair and reasonable to infer that James Weichert intended his Board membership, and particularly his access to its multiple listing service, to inure to the benefit of the corporation.*fn3 The trial judge thus was correct in holding that the corporation was subject to Board rules. The jury was permitted to make its own evaluation of all the proofs bearing on Weichert's role and obligations with respect to the Ringwood listing, including Weichert's proofs that its sale to the Laskis was not through the Board listing at all, but rather
through the Northern New Jersey Multiple Listing Service. The Board rules and regulations were clearly relevant to that determination of Weichert's rights and duties as a selling broker.
We find persuasive, however, Weichert's contention that the proofs, including the Board rules and regulations, did not support any finding of tortious interference with prospective economic or business advantage. As the trial judge correctly stated in his jury instructions, it was McLaughlin's burden to establish that Weichert interfered with her efforts to make the sale by conduct which "went beyond or transgressed generally accepted standards of morality, that is, a violation of standards of socially acceptable conduct." See, e.g., Leslie Blau Co. v. Alfieri, 157 N.J. Super. 173 (App.Div.1978), certif. den. 77 N.J. 510 (1978); Myers v. Arcadio, Inc., 73 N.J. Super. 493 (App.Div.1962); Sustick v. Slatina, 48 N.J. Super. 134 (App.Div.1957); Weinstein v. Clementsen, 20 N.J. Super. 367 (App.Div.1952). The record here is barren of any showing of either interference or unconscionable conduct on the part of Weichert.
The proofs were uncontradicted that the Laskis had decided, for their own reasons and before they had any contact with Weichert, that they did not want to deal any longer with McLaughlin. It was also uncontradicted that the Laskis approached Geraldine Wilson, the Weichert representative, without any solicitation or inducement, and that they told Wilson that they had been shown the house by another broker, not then named, with whom they were dissatisfied and would no longer deal. The jury could, and perhaps did, disbelieve Wilson's testimony that she had "encouraged [Laski] to go back" to McLaughlin, but the proofs did not permit any inference that Wilson or any other Weichert representative had sought out the Laskis or induced them not to continue dealing through McLaughlin.
Thus while the record justifies the conclusion that Weichert's purpose was to advance its own ...