On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Bergen County.
Approved for Publication March 21, 1997.
Before Judges Petrella, Wallace and Kimmelman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Petrella, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Petrella
The opinion of the court was delivered by
This is a contract case arising out of the renovation of an apartment and office building in Montclair, New Jersey, owned by a corporation. After a bench trial, the Judge entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff Alberto Marascio, doing business as A.M. Electric (Marascio), against defendant Nicholas Campanella, holding him personally liable for the sum of $7,208 as the amount due for certain "extra" repairs to the corporation's property.
Campanella, one of two shareholders of S & N Realty (S & N), the corporation that owns the subject property, appeals. He argues that (1) the Consumer Fraud Act (the Act) bars any recovery by Marascio; (2) the purported oral contract is unenforceable because Marascio and Campanella did not agree to an essential term; (3) Marascio presented insufficient evidence to support a claim for quantum meruit; (4) Marascio's claims were against S & N, and therefore, the trial Judge erred by entering judgment against Campanella personally; and (5) the trial Judge's findings are manifestly wrong, requiring reversal.
Campanella and his partner, Sidney Wilchens, each own a 50% interest in S & N. The property contains a three-story building with an office on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors. On October 1, 1991, S & N contracted in writing with Judd Latona of Latona Construction Company, a general contractor, to renovate the building. Marascio, an electrician, was hired by Latona as a subcontractor to complete the necessary electrical work associated with the renovation under Latona's contract with S & N. Marascio was paid $24,000 by Latona for the work he completed as the subcontractor.
Marascio claims that because of mistakes or omissions on the blueprints (which were not allowed into evidence), extra electrical work was necessary. According to Marascio, Campanella visited the property every day to check the progress of the work and that during these visits Campanella routinely instructed Marascio to complete the "extra" work. Campanella denied this. Marascio claimed that this extra work included putting missing washers in the kitchens, better lighting in the apartments, additional switches, running cable T.V. and telephone wires, additional lighting in the office, exterior lighting, and an intercom system.
Marascio asserted that Campanella was to pay him directly, based, in part, upon claimed past dealings when Campanella supposedly paid Marascio for similar work at another location. At the 1996 trial Marascio presented three hand-written invoice slips, all dated April 15, 1992, containing defendant's name and that of S & N, totaling $7,208, and purporting to describe the extra work he performed. Marascio also testified that when he presented these invoices to Campanella, Campanella told him that he would get paid some time in the future because he was having problems with the general contractor. Marascio claims he went to Campanella's office two or three times, and finally Campanella told him not to come back and to contact his lawyer if he had questions about getting paid. Marascio asserted that when he contacted Campanella's attorney he was told to wait and he would get paid eventually.
Campanella testified that he was not sure whether Marascio ever did work for him at any other location, presumably to rebut Marascio's claim that he knew he was to pay Marascio directly based on their prior dealings. According to Campanella's testimony, Latona did not complete the agreed work, and Campanella and his partner had to pay an additional $80,000 to other contractors to complete the work Latona failed to perform. He also said that an architect was supervising the work who would certify that the work was being completed and that based on such certifications the general contractor would be paid. Campanella, whose office was three doors from the work site, said he only visited the building once every three or four weeks.
Campanella testified he never asked Marascio to do extra work and that the telephone wires and cable television wires Marascio claims to have installed were actually installed by Arrow Communications and the cable company, and that he had invoices to prove it. Campanella further testified that the majority of the work that was not completed by Latona was electrical in nature and that a second contractor, AMF Contracting, was hired to complete much of the work Marascio claims he performed as extras. Specifically, Campanella claimed that the receptacles for the washers and dryers in the basement were part of the original contract with Latona, yet Marascio was claiming he performed that work as extras. However, the Judge erroneously precluded defendant from introducing proof as to that fact through the actual invoices which Campanella said he had in fact paid. Campanella also testified that he paid AMF Contracting to install the intercom system and the exterior lighting and that Arrow Communications installed the phone lines. The trial Judge sustained Marascio's objection to Campanella's attempt to admit into evidence the plans and specifications from the original contract with Latona, apparently believing that they were irrelevant to Marascio's claim that he contracted with Campanella for extra work. The court also excluded from evidence, even prior to any objection, invoices showing that Campanella contracted with others to complete some of the work Marascio claims he performed, concluding that it was all inadmissible hearsay.
Campanella testified that Latona was paid through either S & N checks or through his personal funds advanced on behalf of the corporation as loans. During cross-examination Campanella said that the money always came from S & N, but that it had no income, so he and his partner would lend it money to pay its bills.
The trial Judge rejected Campanella's assertion that Marascio is precluded under the Act from enforcing any alleged oral contract for extra electrical work, reasoning that the property was not residential and the Act was not applicable because Campanella was not a home owner or occupant of the premises, but was involved in an "investment situation." Notwithstanding S & N's corporate status, the Judge ruled that Marascio completed the ...