April 28, 2010
LISA NIEVES, COMPLAINANT-APPELLANT,
VANGUARD ASSOCIATES AND NEW JERSEY DIVISION ON CIVIL RIGHTS, RESPONDENTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Division on Civil Rights, HB37WW-06346.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 3, 2010
Before Judges Wefing and Messano.
Lisa Nieves appeals from the July 28, 2008 "Finding of No Probable Cause" issued by the Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (the Division). We have considered the arguments she has raised on appeal in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.
Nieves filed a verified complaint with the Division on April 16, 2008.*fn1 She alleged that the landlord of the mobile home park in which she resided in Moonachie, Vanguard Associates (Vanguard), discriminated on the basis of her gender and marital status, i.e., she was "single." Nieves claimed that Vanguard had "subjected [her] to differential treatment in that she [wa]s being harassed and receiving warnings and fines . . . because her guest's car [wa]s not registered with [Vanguard's] management office." Nieves further alleged that Vanguard had served her with a "notice to quit within 30 days" indicating she "ha[d] to leave because of an unregistered occupant and because she ha[d] three . . . unregistered cars." Nieves also claimed that Vanguard's manager, Peter Luciano, "d[id] not like female residents [and] talk[ed] down to them," dissimilar to the way he treated male residents.
Vanguard answered Nieves' complaint and the Division investigated the charge. Pursuant to the Division's request, Vanguard forwarded copies of the lease violations it had served upon Nieves, as well as the eviction action it had commenced. Vanguard alleged Nieves owed two months rent in the amount of $1678.47.
In her report, the Division's investigator reviewed Nieves' lease with Vanguard. She noted that each tenant was permitted to have two vehicles on the property, and both were to be registered with Vanguard's property management office. Nieves acknowledged to the investigator that she had maintained three vehicles on the property, but claimed she had disposed of one of them. She also admitted that she had not registered either her own car, or that owned by her live-in boyfriend, with the manager.
Contrary to Nieves' claim that Vanguard was selectively enforcing its rules against her because of her gender or marital status, the investigator reviewed thirty notices to quit that had been sent to others at the mobile home park, including male and married residents. One resident that Nieves listed as a witness, Herman Fernandez, told the investigator that he had received a notice to quit when he tried to keep three vehicles on the site. In sum, the investigator concluded the complaint was unsubstantiated. The Director issued his finding of no probable cause as a result.
After filing this appeal, Nieves sought to supplement the record. Her motion was denied. In her brief, Nieves essentially argues that the Division's investigator made a number of factual errors in her report, and that she was never given an opportunity to rebut information supplied by Vanguard, despite her efforts to do so.
Appellate courts have a limited role in reviewing the decisions of administrative agencies. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999) (citation omitted). We will not reverse an agency decision unless "'it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record as a whole.'" Id. at 657 (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 581 (1980)).
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 10:5-14, the Director is charged with
investigating claims of discrimination made under the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49, and determining whether probable cause exists that a violation occurred. As we have noted, "[a]lthough not defined in the [LAD], in the analogous field of civil rights probable cause has been defined as a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by facts and circumstances strong enough in themselves to warrant a cautious man in the belief that the law is being violated."
Sprague v. Glassboro State College, 161 N.J. Super. 218, 224-25 (App. Div. 1978) (quotations and citations omitted).
We have carefully considered the record in this case, as well as the alleged errors that Nieves argues were contained in the investigative report. "The Director's finding of no probable cause was not an abuse of discretion." Id. at 225 (citations omitted).