June 1, 2007
FRANK DELLI SANTI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
LOWE'S HOME CENTERS, INC. I/P/A LOWE'S HOME IMPROVEMENT, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Morris County, Docket No. MRS-SC-1089-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 18, 2007
Before Judges Winkelstein and Fuentes.
Plaintiff Frank Delli Santi appeals from the judgment of the Special Civil Part, Small Claims Division, dismissing his cause of action against Lowe's Home Centers, Inc. (Lowe's). Plaintiff instituted this action to recover $2,994 allegedly awarded to him in nine "merchandise cards" for store credit.
The trial court issued its decision after conducting a bench trial in which it considered plaintiff's testimony, as well as the testimony of Lowe's district manager, who also had extensive experience as a loss prevention officer. The trial judge gave the following description of plaintiff's claims:
He asserts that on May 31, 2005 -- and if we go to the [store credit] cards which we have them right here, there are associated with these cards, I'll call it, status inquiry receipts. These status inquiry receipts all reflect that the inquiries were made prior to 1610 hours on March -- on May 31, 2005.
The inquiries predate that time on that day in every one of these cards in question.
Mr. Delli Santi has a very simple claim. He says because of the ill feelings, because of the predisposition of Lowe's against him and because of the fabrication and motivation of Lowe's that they unjustifiably and wrongfully deleted credit balances on these cards in the -- for the amount of $2,994 and he's entitled to that Judgment.
This case was ultimately decided on the question of credibility. In this light, the court admitted into evidence a number of documents, including a computer printout depicting plaintiff's transactions with Lowe's, and three judgments of conviction (JOC) from Hudson, Morris and Sussex counties. These records established that plaintiff had been convicted of two third-degree offenses involving shoplifting under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11b(3) and one fourth-degree offense of fraud under N.J.S.A. 2C:21-2.4b.
After considering all of the evidence, the court rejected plaintiff's claims, as a matter of credibility. The court accepted the testimony of the Lowe's representative, that plaintiff's account credit had been depleted by the time plaintiff attempted to access his account. Lowe's account tracking system accurately reflected that plaintiff deliberately exhausted his store credit, and was therefore not entitled to compensation.
In reviewing the factual findings reached by a trial court, our role as an appellate court is limited to determining whether those findings are supported by competent evidence. Rova Farms Resort, Inc., v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). We do not disturb these findings and the legal conclusions that flow therefrom, "'unless we are convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice.'" Ibid. (quoting Fagliarone v. Twp. of N. Bergen, 78 N.J. Super. 154, 155 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 40 N.J. 221 (1963)).
Here, the trial court was entitled to accept the credibility of certain witnesses, and, as a consequence, reject the credibility of others. We have no legal grounds on which to disturb such findings.
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