January 13, 2009
PAULUS, SOKOLOWSKI AND SARTOR ARCHITECTURE, P.C., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
ONNAM, L.L.C., ONNAM GAMING, L.L.C., M. SANDRA MANNO, INDIVIDUALLY, HAVANA RESORT CASINO-ATLANTIC CITY, INC., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, AND ONNAM NATIVE AMERICAN GAMING, L.L.C., DEFENDANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Docket No. L-527-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 9, 2008
Before Judges Skillman and Grall.
In April 2004, plaintiff, Paulus, Sokolowski and Sartor Architecture, P.C., filed this action to collect payment from defendants under a contract for architectural and engineering services rendered by members of the firm. The dispute was tried to the court on November 13 and 15, 2007, and the court entered judgment in the amount of $763,235.08 against defendants Onnam, L.L.C., Onnam Gaming, L.L.C., Havana Resort Casino-Atlantic City, Inc., and M. Sandra Manno, individually. A judgment of no cause was entered in favor of defendant Onnam Native American Gaming, L.L.C.
On appeal defendants raise three issues:
I. THE JUDGMENT OF THE TRIAL COURT SHOULD BE VACATED BECAUSE THE JUDGE ABUSED DISCRETION [IN DENYING AN ADJOURNMENT].
II. THE JUDGMENT OF THE TRIAL COURT SHOULD BE VACATED BECAUSE THE JUDGE WAS PRESUMPTIVELY BIASED AGAINST THE DEFENDANT.
III. THE CASE SHOULD BE DISMISSED BECAUSE IT WAS NEVER RIPE FOR TRIAL.
Our review of the record convinces us that the judgment "is based on findings of fact which are adequately supported by evidence," R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(A), and we affirm both the denial of defendant M. Sandra Manno's request for an adjournment and the judgment substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Ashrafi in his oral decisions of November 13 and 15, 2007.
Defendants' claim that the judge abused his discretion in refusing to grant an adjournment of this trial on a complaint filed more than three years before the trial date is not meritorious under these circumstances. Trial had been postponed previously at Manno's request, and Manno sought this two-week adjournment on the ground that her mother, who suffers from dementia and had broken her hip, required her personal attention and care. Manno's attorney had nothing other than an e-mail he received from his client two days before the trial date to support his client's claimed excuse. In addition to the two-day period prior to trial, there was a one-day recess between the first and second days of trial and Manno's deposition testimony was admitted into evidence. Nonetheless, if there was an explanation for Manno's inability to make other arrangements to address her mother's needs or present an adequate defense, it was never presented to the trial court.
In the absence of evidence establishing Manno's inability to present a defense or comply with plaintiff's notice in lieu of subpoena issued to compel her attendance at trial, the judge's exercise of discretion was consistent with his responsibility "to dispense substantial justice on the merits."
Luedtke v. Shobert, 342 N.J. Super. 202, 214 (App. Div. 2001). There was no abuse of discretion. Ibid.
Defendants' remaining claims lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).
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