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Tai v. Crown View Manor I Condominium Association

July 11, 2008

JOHN TAI AND SUE TAI, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CROWN VIEW MANOR I CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, GLORIA SLIPOY, AND MARTIN ROBERT BONDA, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-6701-05.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 14, 2008

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Messano.

Plaintiffs,*fn1 John and Sue Tai, appeal from the trial court order granting summary judgment to defendants, Crown View Manor I Condominium Association (the Association); Gloria Slipoy, Property Manager; and Martin Robert Bonda, Treasurer of the Association's Board of Directors (collectively "defendants"). We remand for further proceedings related to the Association's procedures for access to its records. We affirm the decision of the trial court in all other respects.

Plaintiffs are longtime owners and residents of a condominium that is part of a development known as Crown View Manor I in West Orange (Crown View). The administration and management of Crown View is undertaken by the Association. Although its elected governing body is the Board of Directors (Board), the day-to-day operations of Crown View are overseen by the property manager, Slipoy, and other paid staff.

In May 2005, Thomas Plaza, then Assistant Superintendent for the Association, observed someone whom he believed to be plaintiff walking off with a water jug from the lobby of Crown View. At the direction of the Board and relying on the information furnished by Plaza, Slipoy wrote a letter to plaintiff dated May 31, 2005, notifying him that two employees of Crown View observed him taking the water jug. She advised plaintiff that he "must reimburse the Association $10.00 for the deposit for the container and $4.99 for 5 gallons of water." Slipoy furnished a copy of the letter to the Association's five board members, its attorney, and to Gary Zepka, the managing agent of the property management company that managed Crown View. During the Association's regularly scheduled meeting held on June 9, 2005, plaintiff attempted to distribute copies of the letter to everyone in attendance. However, according to plaintiff, "the people in the front didn't want to take it and I gave a copy to the auditor that was sitting at a table and I remember the president[.]" Three months later, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants. The claims asserted against defendants included defamation, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the New Jersey Condominium Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8B-1 to -38.

Following the completion of discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment. The court granted the motion, stating,

[M]y position is counts one [defamation], two [legal malice and failure to retract], three [breach of duty to investigate and failure to retract], four [outrage and/or infliction of emotional harm] and seven [conspiracy] are dismissed as to Ms. Slipoy and Mr. Bonda. Her letter is under a qualified privilege. The letter was regarding a common interest, namely to protect the assets of the Association. It was only sent to seven individuals. The only one who published the letter was [plaintiff] by handing it out. It was -- it was going to be confidential until you chose to do otherwise. It wasn't reckless. There was no disregard either on Ms. Slipoy's or Mr. Bonda's behalf. You're a limited purpose public figure. You're well known, even by your own admission. You've made numerous requests to the Board. You've run for office up there. Everybody either likes you or they hate you up there, but everybody knows you. So you've made numerous, numerous requests.

The regulations that were [] implemented by the Board -- there's two of them. They're in full compliance with [Mulligan v. Panther Valley Prop. Owners Ass'n] -- and that's Eleanor Mulligan, well known activist lawyer, condominium association member of Panther Valley. And the case is [337 N.J. Super. 293 (App. Div. 2001)]. An Appellate Division [j]udge has already reviewed all of the restrictions that were imposed in the Mulligan case and I think the lawyers for the Crown View Manor Board basically adopted the exact wording of those regulations. [T]hey've already been approved. There's nothing restrictive. It's a proper use of the homeowner[s'] association's money in allowing the efficient operation of the business office. You've already displayed here today at least [forty-three] separate requests you've made for records. I'm sure there's been more.

So counts five and six are also being dismissed. Count seven is just a general conspiracy count. There's absolutely no evidence of any conspiracy against anybody on this Board. These are all volunteers. The bottom line is this entire case is dismissed. You can file your appeal.

The present appeal followed.

In reviewing an appeal from a summary judgment order, we employ the same standard of review as the trial court. Prudential Prop. Ins. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998); Busciglio v. DellaFave, 366 N.J. Super. 135, 139 (App. Div. 2004); Singer v. Beach Trading Co., 379 N.J. Super. 63, 80 (App. Div. 2005) (citing Manalapan Realty v. Twp. Committee, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995)). We first determine whether the moving party has demonstrated that there were no genuinely disputed issues of material facts. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). We then decide whether the motion judge's application of the law was correct. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hillside Bottling Co., Inc., 387 N.J. Super. 224, 230-231 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 189 N.J. ...


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