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Housing Authority of the City of Camden v. Lisa Williams

April 6, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Camden County, Docket No. LT-8492-09.

Per curiam.


Argued December 6, 2010

Before Judges Sabatino and Alvarez.

Plaintiff Housing Authority of the City of Camden (the Housing Authority) sought to evict defendant Lisa Williams because on August 8, 2009, while in the lobby of a Housing Authority apartment building, Williams threatened a security guard with a knife. The Housing Authority's complaint was dismissed after trial. For the reasons that follow, we reverse, reinstate the complaint, and direct that the eviction be reconsidered given that the Housing Authority adequately proved Williams's unresolved conduct and in light of Williams's demand for a reasonable accommodation of her disability pursuant to federal and state law.

After the August 2008 incident, the Housing Authority sent Williams a notice of proposed termination dated August 15, 2008. Attached to the Housing Authority's verified complaint is a "Certification of Landlord (Lease Violation)," which refers to Williams's violation of certain enumerated provisions of the lease. Those paragraphs in the lease, or the lease itself for that matter, were not supplied to the trial court. We therefore do not have a copy of the relevant paragraphs. Nonetheless, Williams does not dispute that if the conduct was proven, a violation of the lease terms would have been established. As permitted under the applicable rules and regulations, Williams requested an administrative hearing, conducted on November 19, 2008, and June 19, 2009.*fn1

By letter dated September 29, 2008, Williams for the first time advised the Housing Authority of her mental health conditions and requested a reasonable accommodation of her disability; specifically, waiver of the Housing Authority's "one strike and you're out policy" implicated by her conduct towards the security guard. In a letter dated July 7, 2009, the hearing officer upheld the Housing Authority's determination. Accordingly, on August 22, 2009, the Housing Authority formally notified Williams of the termination of her lease and on October 21, 2009, filed a verified complaint for eviction. An amended complaint was subsequently filed on December 1, 2009.

At trial, Williams introduced a note from a doctor of osteopathy dated November 9, 2008, stating that she "has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with extreme mood swings and explosive anger that can sometimes lead to violent behavior. She is currently undergoing therapy." Williams testified that she had completed an anger management course, was in treatment for her mental health conditions, and was compliant with her medication. Despite the treatment, Williams became so disruptive before the trial actually commenced that the trial judge called a recess, during which he requested Williams's attorney caution her that if she did not quiet down, she would be ejected from the courtroom. Specifically, while counsel and the court were discussing whether the matter was ready to proceed, Williams said:

[DEFENDANT]: Why don't you just evict me, man. Leave me the f*ck alone, 'cause I don't like what they doin especially with the Camden Housing Authority. And this judge is going to evict me anyway. So just evict me, man, just evict me. Sh*t, I'm tired of it. It's conspiracy of the Camden Housing Authority -- no you -- you not even representing me right. You not even representing me right. They not going to listen -- this judge hasn't listened to you the whole time you was representing me. I should been representing myself.

[DEFENDANT]: Not nobody been cut or nothing. I ain't cut nobody with nobody threaten nothin. The only reason I pled guilty to cause I didn't want to go to trial. I wish I would have went to trial. Cause, I'm mad, I've been going through this for a whole year and I ain't cut nobody or do nothing to nobody.

THE COURT: Okay, [defense counsel], now you know I have a lot of patience.

[DEFENDANT]: He don't even like me.

You guys snubbed me from the time I been in here, sir.

Williams insisted on cross-examination that she did not "want to hear about questions." Although she did not deny having entered guilty pleas to charges of terroristic threats resulting from the confrontation with the security guard, she claimed she could not recall the precise nature of the ...

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