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Swartz v. Becker

Decided: March 11, 1991.

HARRY M. SWARTZ AND RENEE SWARTZ, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
JOSEPH BECKER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Monmouth County.

Antell, Scalera and Keefe.

Per Curiam

Defendant appeals from an order granting summary judgment to plaintiffs ordering that the property owned by the parties should be partitioned through a sale and not partitioned in kind.

The parties, who are related, own various contiguous lots in Middletown and Holmdel townships totalling approximately 11 acres fronting on Route 35 in Monmouth County. The property was accumulated piecemeal over a period of approximately 20

years in varying degrees of ownership. In total, Becker now holds title to approximately 33% while Renee holds title to 17% and Harry holds title to the remaining 50%.

The parties assertedly became co-venturers whereby they sought to develop and sell the total property as one major developable tract for commercial development and to divide the profits amongst themselves, on a more or less equal basis. The parties discussed sales with prospective buyers over a period of several years but they were unable to agree on the terms of any sale.

Suit then was started by the plaintiffs to obtain a partition and Becker counterclaimed, seeking a declaration establishing the joint venture and its terms and an award of damages for the breach thereof. After suit was started the parties acquired a prospective purchaser, New Market Development Company, Ltd., for the development of a shopping center. However, Becker was reluctant to sign an agreement with New Market because he wanted to maintain an ownership interest in the property through continued joint venture participation. However, Harry and Renee did not want to participate because they did not want to be subject to the risks associated with the development of a retail shopping center. As a result, Becker, who previously appeared to have been content with a sale of the property as a method of partition, then expressed his preference for a physical partition of the property so that he could retain an equity interest. To that end he even submitted a report by an engineering, planning and surveying firm which suggested dividing the property in such a way that he would retain an approximate one-third interest.

However, the trial court apparently rejected such a partition in kind based partially on Becker's previous position that a sale should take place, and instead granted Harry and Renee's motion for summary judgment for a partition by a sale of the entire property and a subsequent division of the money proceeds. The court-ordered auction was held on September 1,

1989 with only the bid from New Market deemed to be acceptable. Accordingly, on September 12, 1989, the parties entered into a written agreement of sale with New Market. However, based on a subsequent report that the property comprised 37% wetlands, New Market, in accordance with the contract, lawfully terminated the agreement.

Defendant asserts that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment to plaintiffs ordering a partition by sale because there were disputed issues of material fact.

It is axiomatic that summary judgment will be granted if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact challenged and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment or order as a matter of law." R. 4:46-2; Judson v. Peoples Bank and Trust Co. of Westfield, 17 N.J. 67, 74-75, 110 A.2d 24 (1954). Thus, we must determine whether there was a genuine issue of material fact and, if not, whether the motion judge's ruling on the law was correct. Vallillo v. Muskin Corp., 218 N.J. Super. 472, 474-475, 528 A.2d 53 (App.Div.1987), certif. denied 109 N.J. ...


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