This was a summary action for possession pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(c). Plaintiff-landlord served defendant-tenant with a notice to quit based on damage done to the landlord's premises, admittedly by defendant. Because of the sensitive facts involved, a fictitious name has been used for defendant.
The legal issue presented is the interpretation of the statutory requirement that the damage must have been:
I have found no authority in New Jersey interpreting that statutory subsection.
The facts material to this case are that the 41-year-old single defendant-tenant has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic. He has received treatment on and off for 15 years, and regularly since 1980. The treatment includes injections of prolixine decanate. The injections are scheduled for every other week. According to a psychiatrist who testified in behalf of defendant, if defendant misses an injection, within one week to ten days after missing the injection, defendant will again become psychotic. The consequence of the psychotic state is that defendant will become delusional; that is, he will lose contact with reality. While in that mental state, according to the psychiatrist, defendant is not responsible for (i.e., in control of) his own behavior, and does not act with either intent or malice; he doesn't realize right from wrong; all of his normal moral judgments are obliterated; he's "driven by inner voices" and cannot control himself.
Additional material facts are that defendant lives alone, consistent with the recommendation of the psychiatrist, in Irvington. The injections are scheduled to be given at a clinic, also in Irvington. And, according to the psychiatrist, if defendant misses a scheduled injection, the clinic, a social worker, therapist, and nurse have the duty to notify defendant's family -- in this case, either his father or his stepbrother. The father currently lives in Maplewood, and the stepbrother lives in New York.
The psychiatrist opined that defendant, when in control of his mental faculties, knows the significance and likely consequence of getting or missing the injections when scheduled. However, he also testified that while well, a psychotic person might miss the injection because of a rationalization that he is then well, and therefore does not need the injection. The problem gradually erupts, because the normal mental condition subsides so gradually that the patient does not realize what is happening. As the psychiatrist stated it, the psychotic "hears the bells, but doesn't realize the consequences."
The psychiatrist's testimony also included the opinion that the likelihood of personal injury as a result of the defendant's actions is "not very high," if defendant again becomes psychotic. He expressed no opinion with reference to the likelihood of defendant causing future property damage, while in a psychotic state. But probably more significant is that the psychiatrist testified that if defendant again becomes psychotic, defendant may confuse people and property.
Defendant missed one of his scheduled appointments for the injection. No specific reason was given for his having missed that appointment, nor why those follow-up procedures or people missed their follow-up with defendant. However, having missed it, he became psychotic and while in that delusional state, he admittedly damaged the landlord's premises. The damage was spray painting the stove, radiator, and windowsills in his own apartment, and, with a hammer, substantially damaging the door of the tenant downstairs.
Defendant contests his eviction, with the defense that the damage was not caused or allowed through acts or conduct that was either willful or grossly negligent.
This court rejects that defense in the facts presented, and finds that defendant did "cause or allow," through his willfulness or gross ...