On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Camden County, Docket No. SC-3213-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and J.N. Harris.
On November 12, 2008, plaintiff Danielle Brandon filed a small claims complaint seeking a judgment against defendant Angela Russell in the amount of $1292 for services plaintiff rendered as a household manager and nanny. In response to plaintiff's complaint, defendant filed a counterclaim for $272 alleging that plaintiff "took off with a paycheck and cashed it knowing that she did not work the full pay period." Following a non-jury trial in the Special Civil Part, plaintiff's complaint and defendant's counterclaim were both dismissed for lack of proof. Plaintiff appeals, and we affirm.
The parties were the only witnesses to testify during the trial, and their testimony was in conflict. Plaintiff testified her pay rate was fourteen dollars per hour for forty hours and twenty-one dollars per hour for overtime. According to plaintiff, she usually worked fifty-three hours per week. Therefore, plaintiff testified she should have been paid $833 for a fifty-three-hour week. Plaintiff also testified that defendant agreed to pay her "an additional $50 for cleaning."
Defendant, however, testified to a different arrangement. According to defendant, the parties agreed on $700 per week, which represented a base pay of $600 per week plus "$50 gas and tolls, and then $50 for cleaning. So that was the original agreement."
After carefully considering the contradictory testimony of the parties in light of the documentary evidence, the court rendered an oral decision. The court found that the parties were equally credible and concluded both of them failed to prove their claims by a preponderance of the evidence:
Each side must convince me by a preponderance of the credible evidence that . . . their version occurred, and neither side did it. . . . So I'm not satisfied that the plaintiff has shown that she was hired for $14 per hour. She is correct, if that was the deal she has been underpaid. But I'm not satisfied that she's proven that that was the deal.
The defendant's counter-claim, likewise, I'm not satisfied that she has proven that anything the [plaintiff] did justifies [any] award [on] the counter-claim. The counter-claim it seems to me was filed in response to the claim. My guess is it would never have been filed if there had not been the claim.
Our standard of review of a trial court's fact-finding is one of deference, requiring only that the facts as found are supported by adequate competent evidence in the record. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 483-84 (1974). This is particularly so when, as in this case, "the evidence is largely testimonial and involves questions of credibility." In re Return of Weapons to J.W.D., 149 N.J. 108, 117 (1997). Guided by these principles, we discern no basis to intervene in this matter.
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