On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. DC-041636-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Yannotti and Chambers.
Plaintiff John Good appeals from a judgment entered by the trial court on May 20, 2009, dismissing his complaint against defendants Patrick Obu (Obu) and Dexter Nelson (Nelson) with prejudice. We affirm.
On November 1, 2008, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants in the Special Civil Part. Plaintiff alleged that he owns and leases rental apartments in premises on South 18th Street in Newark. He further alleged that Obu owns property on an adjacent lot and leases the same to Nelson. Plaintiff claimed that Nelson had placed his garbage on plaintiff's property. Plaintiff also claimed that Nelson threatened him with bodily harm, slandered him and defamed him by telling neighbors that plaintiff was "a thief man[,]" and a "neighborhood thief man."
Plaintiff also alleged that he tried to rent his apartment but when prospective tenants would come to see the apartment, Nelson would sometimes appear, call him "thief man" and slander him. Plaintiff also said that Nelson would slander and defame him to other neighbors and persons passing by. In addition, plaintiff claimed that he lost rent because he could not lease his apartment due to Nelson's actions.
Plaintiff further alleged that he brought Nelson's behavior to Obu's attention and demanded that he stop Nelson from engaging in the same. Plaintiff said that Nelson continued to harass him, dump his garbage on his property and threaten him with bodily harm. He alleged that he suffered emotional stress as a result of Nelson's slander, defamation of character, humiliation and abusive language. Plaintiff sought compensatory damages of $15,000, punitive damages of $10,000, as well as fees and costs of the litigation.
On December 11, 2008, Obu filed an answer denying the allegations made against him. Nelson did not file an answer and on January 2, 2009, default was entered against him. On January 8, 2009, plaintiff requested that the court schedule a proof hearing so that a default judgment could be entered against Nelson. It appears, however, that the proof hearing was not scheduled.
The matter was listed for trial on February 18, 2009. On that date, the court entered an order which adjourned the trial, required Nelson to file an answer and any counterclaims by February 27, 2009, allowed the parties to engage in discovery and re-scheduled the matter for trial on May 20, 2009.
Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of the February 18, 2009 order, which the court denied. Although Nelson's pleading its not included in the record, it appears that he filed a counterclaim, seeking damages for the expenses he incurred responding to plaintiff's complaints and lawsuit.
On May 20, 2009, the court conducted a trial in the matter, sitting without a jury. At the trial, plaintiff testified that he is the owner of a two-family home on South 18th Street in Newark, which is adjacent to Obu's property. Plaintiff stated that Nelson, a tenant in the Obu property, had been harassing him since September of 2006, when plaintiff had new windows installed on his property. According to plaintiff, Nelson cursed at the workers and told them to get off of his property.
Plaintiff presented excerpts from videotapes that he had made over several years. Plaintiff said that the tapes showed Nelson throwing garbage on his property, harassing him and calling him "thief man[.]" As he watched the tapes, the court commented that he heard some yelling in the background but did not see any anger or temper. At another point, the court commented that he observed Nelson on one of the tapes saying good morning to several people. Later, the court stated that it had "yet to see any garbage thrown."
After another excerpt from the tapes was shown, the court commented that it did not show Nelson acting "in a threatening or menacing manner." Plaintiff played another excerpt and stated that it showed Nelson "throwing ...