On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-3774-02.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Rodríguez and Chambers.
Defendants Kim Pamperin and Tracy Pamperin seek to overturn a jury verdict against them in the sum of $157,000, for failure to maintain a sewer line pursuant to an easement that they held across the property of plaintiffs Konstantinos Natsis and Helen Natsis. Finding no error, we affirm.
This unusual easement case arises from the following circumstances. Defendants own a two-family home located on a hill above and bordering plaintiffs' property. Neither defendants nor plaintiffs were aware when they purchased their respective homes that defendants' property had the benefit of a 1923 sewer easement across plaintiffs' property and that the sewer pipe ran through the basement of plaintiffs' home. The easement required the dominant easement holder, namely, defendants, to maintain the easement.
This situation was not discovered until April 2000, shortly after plaintiffs moved into the home, when, in cleaning up the property, they discovered the sewer pipe which was leaking. A subsequent title search revealed the existence of the easement. They also discovered that the sewer lines of two other neighbors were tied into the easement sewer pipe without a right under the easement to do so.
When advised of these circumstances, the defendants, along with one of the other neighbors, hired a plumber who did certain repairs to address the problem. However, the pipe continued to leak raw sewage. Plaintiffs contended that they continued to advise defendants of the persistent problems with the sewer line, but the latter were unresponsive. At one point, Mr. Natsis rerouted the sewer line away from his house. Defendants maintained that Mr. Natsis, who was not a licensed plumber, repeatedly tampered with the sewer line, thereby causing a continuing problem with it. Defendants also asserted that plaintiffs refused to allow the Pamperins' and their plumber access to make repairs.
Due to the health issues presented by the leaking sewer pipe over a number of years, Township officials declared the situation a public health nuisance and, eventually, pursuant to a court order dated February 19, 2004, the Township undertook the repair. The issue was finally resolved in 2007, when defendants sewer line was rerouted so that it did not cross plaintiffs' property. Plaintiffs contended that from the time they purchased the house in April 2000 until August 2007, when the matter was finally resolved, they were plagued with leaks from the sewer pipe.
We will not review the complex procedural history of this case which was commenced in 2002, while events were still unfolding. The relevant procedural history is set forth in our earlier decision, reversing the judgments entered after the first trial and remanding the case to the trial court. Natsis v. Twp. of Weehawken, No. A-2552-04 (App. Div. Jan. 9, 2007). On remand, the claims involving all of the other parties were resolved before the second trial, so that only the claims regarding plaintiffs and the Pamperins were tried.
After a jury trial, in which defendants appeared pro se, the jury found that defendants had breached their duty under the easement by failing to maintain the sewer line and that they had maintained a nuisance.*fn1 The jury concluded that this conduct was a proximate cause of harm to plaintiffs and awarded plaintiffs damages of $157,000.
On appeal, defendants contend that the trial court erred in submitting the issue of nuisance to the jury. They also maintain that the trial court should have dismissed the complaint at the end of plaintiffs' case because plaintiffs had wrongfully moved the sewer line and plaintiffs had not provided proof of economic loss or diminution in the value of their property. Defendants further assert that "[t]he trial court prejudiced defendants by allowing plaintiffs to portray ...