On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Essex County, Docket No. SC-413-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Gilroy and Simonelli.
Defendants Michael Priddy (Priddy) and Priddy Learning Academy, Inc. (PLA) appeal from the judgment of the Special Civil Part entered against PLA in the amount of $1022. We reverse.
The following facts are derived from the evidence presented at trial. PLA offers tutoring programs in math and reading/language arts. In the summer of 2008, it offered a tutoring program that began on June 30, 2008, and ended on August 7, 2008.
On June 26, 2008, plaintiff learned that her daughter, who had just completed the sixth grade, was going to be dropped "down a level in language arts" the following school year. Believing that her daughter had dyslexia, plaintiff consulted a teacher, who referred plaintiff to a neuropsychologist. Prior to speaking to the neuropsychologist, in order to "cover all [her] bases," plaintiff contacted Priddy to provide summer tutoring instruction to her daughter.
Plaintiff knew that Priddy had no experience with children with dyslexia. Nevertheless, because plaintiff wanted her daughter "to learn how to study better and [felt her daughter] needs some help[,]" she agreed to enroll her daughter in PLA's summer tutoring program.
Plaintiff paid the entire program tuition of $1070 in full. She also signed a registration form, which stated "I have received, and agree to the General Policies and Procedures of [PLA]." The General Policies and Procedures contains a provision that tuition for "[t]he Summer Session is nonrefundable." Also, Priddy gave plaintiff a receipt that stated "[n]o refunds exchange only in seven days." Plaintiff claimed that she did not know about the refund policy, and denied receiving the General Policies and Procedures or that defendant advised her there was a no refund policy.
On June 27, 2008, the neuropsychologist advised plaintiff that PLA's tutoring program would not benefit her daughter. Plaintiff immediately called Priddy to cancel her daughter's enrollment and requested a refund of the tuition. Priddy refused a refund, prompting plaintiff to file a complaint in the Special Civil Part.
The trial judge found that there was an enforceable contract between the parties, and that the General Policies and Procedures provided that the tuition for the summer program was non-refundable. However, the judge concluded that plaintiff was entitled to a refund because she had canceled within twenty-four hours with good cause based on testing that did not find her daughter in need of special services. The court entered judgment dismissing the matter as to Priddy and entering judgment against PLA for $1022, representing the tuition, plus costs, less a $70 registration fee.
On appeal, relying on Princeton Montessori Soc'y, Inc. v. Leff, 248 N.J. Super. 474 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 127 N.J. 545 (1991), defendants contend that the judge failed to enforce the non-refundable provision in a contract for educational services. Defendants also contend that the judge erred in finding plaintiff was entitled to a refund because she canceled within twenty-four hours in good faith and/or based on her child's lack of special needs.
Our review of a judgment entered in a non-jury case is limited. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). We should not "disturb the factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judge unless we are convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice." Fagliarone v. Twp. of N. Bergen, 78 N.J. Super. 154, 155 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 40 N.J. 221 (1963); see also Brunson v. Affinity Fed. Credit Union, 199 N.J. 381, 397 (2009). "However, '[a] trial court's interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts are not entitled to any special deference[,]'" and are subject to de novo review. Mountain Hill, L.L.C. v. Twp. Comm. of Middletown, 403 N.J. Super. 146, 193 (App. Div. 2008) (quoting Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 149 N.J. 366, 378 (1995)), certif. denied, 199 N.J. 129 (2009).
We begin our analysis by rejecting defendant's contention that Princeton Montessori required the judge to enforce the non- refundable provision. In that case, the tuition contract between the school and the parent, which contained a ...