On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-2523-02.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Levy, P.J.Ch. (temporarily assigned).
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 14, 2005
Before Judges Stern, Parker and Levy.
Plaintiff Chandur Gulrajaney appeals from two orders granting summary judgment in favor of defendants dismissing his complaint seeking damages for defamation. The first order, entered February 20, 2004, granted motions in favor of defendants Barbara Tokay, Gina Riggi, and Pat and Pooja Dhawan. The second order, entered May 12, 2004, granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Stacey Petricha. Having carefully reviewed the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, we affirm both orders for the following reasons.
The alleged defamatory statements were contained in an E-mail forwarded on March 15, 2002 by Petricha to Tokay, plaintiff's opponent in a March 20, 2002 run-off election for a seat on the nine-member board of directors (Board) of the Galaxy Towers Condominium Association (Association). The Association manages Galaxy Towers Condominium (Galaxy), in Guttenberg, New Jersey. Galaxy is comprised of five buildings, three of which are residential towers containing more than 1,000 units and housing some 2,500 residents. Galaxy features its own shopping mall, theater and parking garage. Board members are elected for three-year staggered terms.
The E-mail that sparked the litigation read as follows:
My husband and I are owners in Tower-I and we are eager to give you our vote on Wednesday. Because of our work situations, we have not been very involved socially in the Galaxy Community, therefore, spreading the word in your favor would be difficult for us. However, if you come across anyone who seems uncertain of the importance of casting his or her vote for you, please feel free to forward them this message.
We purchased our apartment from your opponent, Chad, and it was a very unpleasant and frustrating experience. He had agreed to make repairs to the apartment (fix broken windows, leaks in bathroom, etc.) prior to our closing. These agreements were even given to us in writing. Because Chad worked for Riverfront Realty, he was aware of our renting situation, and knew that we had given up our rental apartment. Despite his written agreement with us, he refused to make these repairs and told us that if we wanted the apartment, we would simply have to take it "as is". He even refused to allow us to investigate the bathroom leakage by yelling and screaming along with his father, and throwing us out of the apartment on the day of our closing. In addition, he had been residing in the apartment and left it filthy!
To avoid the expense and inconvenience of having to move out of the complex, we went through with the purchase. Instead of the joy that most couples feel at the purchase of their first home, we felt frustrated and bitter.
I am sure that Chad knew what he was doing from a legal standpoint, but our dealings with him showed him to be dishonest and lacking in integrity. Our neighbor had a similar experience with him and she's heard complaints from others as well.
We were horrified to hear that Chad could possibly get himself a position on the board. Throwing out all his ideas and solutions to the residents of the Galaxy, and trying to impress them with his business savvy, does not hide the fact that he is not a man of good character. Judging from the unwise decisions he made on renovating his own apartment, and its lack of upkeep, we don't feel that he would be an ideal person to make these types of decisions on a larger scale. We are certain that his motivations stand to benefit his own investments, and not the Galaxy community as a whole.
Because the last thing that the Galaxy needs is more dishonesty, we would hope that you will do all you can to beat him in this election. As stated on your flyer, there are many problems that need to be resolved, but if they are not resolved in an open and honest manner by open and honest people, the Galaxy community will only continue to go down-hill.
Best of Luck to you, Stacey Petricha The written agreement to which the E-mail referred, which required plaintiff to make certain repairs, never became binding on the parties, as it was subject to attorney review and had been rejected by Petricha's attorney, who declared it null and void. Petricha's attorney rejected the contract in a letter that also offered to reinstate the agreement if noted changes were agreed upon, including a provision for a credit to the Petrichas at closing if the required repairs were not done. However, plaintiff, a licensed realtor, would not agree to the changes. His attorney crossed out most of them, agreeing on behalf of plaintiff to make only one repair, to fix a water leak in the bathroom. Thus, with the one exception, the Petrichas were advised, if they planned to proceed, they were now required to take the unit "as is." With reluctance, they agreed to go forward.
The circumstances surrounding plaintiff's refusal to do repairs for which he had previously accepted responsibility were not known to Petricha at the time she sent the E-mail. As the trial court specifically found based on uncontested facts, because her husband had handled the contract negotiations, Petricha was unaware of her attorney's rejection of the agreement and, therefore, ...