On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. L-2827-04.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Lisa and Holston, Jr.
This is a breach of contract action arising out of the cancellation of a wedding reception due to a power failure.
Plaintiffs contracted with defendant Snuffy Pantagis Ent., Inc., t/a Pantagis Renaissance, a banquet hall in Scotch Plains, for a wedding reception for 150 people, to be held between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Saturday, August 3, 2002. The total contract price was $10,578, all of which was to be paid in advance. The contract contained a force majeure clause, which stated: "Snuffy's will be excused from performance under this contract if it is prevented from doing so by an act of God (e.g., flood, power failure, etc.), or other unforeseen events or circumstances."
Less than forty-five minutes after the reception began, there was a power failure in the area where the Pantagis Renaissance is located. At the time, plaintiffs were in an upstairs room with the bridal party, and their guests were downstairs being served alcoholic beverages and hors d'oeuvres. The power failure caused all the lights, except emergency lights, to go out and the air conditioning system to shut off. In addition, the band plaintiffs had hired for the reception refused to play without lights or the electricity required to operate their instruments, and the lack of lighting impeded the wedding photographer and videographer from taking pictures.
On the day of the reception, the temperature was in the upper 80s or low 90s and the humidity was high. As a result, plaintiffs and their guests became extremely uncomfortable within a short time after the power failure. According to plaintiffs, some of the guests resorted to pouring water over their heads to keep cool.
When it became evident that electricity would not be restored quickly, the manager of the Pantagis Renaissance offered to reschedule the reception. However, many of plaintiffs' guests had traveled a substantial distance to attend the wedding and would not have been able to return on another date. Therefore, plaintiffs declined the offer.
There was some dispute regarding the services provided after the power failure. Plaintiffs testified that the Pantagis Renaissance stopped serving alcoholic beverages around 7:30 p.m. and that the only food it served in addition to hors d'oeuvres was salad. However, the banquet hall's general manager testified that the facility continued to serve alcoholic beverages until after 9 p.m. and that it served plaintiffs and their guests salad and pasta and started to serve them dinner.
Shortly after 9 p.m., there was some kind of altercation between one of plaintiffs' guests and an employee of the Pantagis Renaissance. As a result, the banquet hall called the police, who arrived around 9:30 p.m. By this time, the batteries operating the emergency lights had begun to run out of power, and the only illumination was provided by candelabras on the tables. Therefore, the manager of the Pantagis Renaissance asked the police to evacuate the facility, which was then occupied not only by plaintiffs and their guests but also the attendees at four other wedding receptions.
Plaintiffs subsequently brought this breach of contract action seeking recovery of the $10,578 they prepaid for the wedding reception plus the $6,000 paid to the band, $3,810 paid to the wedding photographer and $3,242.09 paid to the videographer. Plaintiffs' complaint also asserted a negligence claim.
The case was tried in a half-day bench trial. The trial court concluded in a brief oral opinion that plaintiffs' breach of contract claim was barred by the force majeure clause of the contract because the power failure was an "unusual extraordinary unexpected circumstance" that could not be avoided by "reasonable human foresight." The court dismissed plaintiffs' negligence claim on the ground there was no evidence the Pantagis Renaissance was responsible for the power failure or failed to take ...