December 28, 2011
SHORELINE ELECTRICAL CONTRACTORS, INC., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
RUSTIN R. HAFEN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. DC-006722-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued November 1, 2011
Before Judges Yannotti and Kennedy.
Defendant Rustin R. Hafen appeals from a judgment entered on October 20, 2010, in favor of plaintiff Shoreline Electrical Contractors, Inc. (Shoreline). We affirm.
On March 19, 2008, Shoreline filed an action in the Special Civil Part of the Law Division against defendant for breach of contract. Shoreline alleged that defendant had retained it to perform certain electrical work at an agreed-upon price. Shoreline claimed that it had performed all of the work and $1,500 was due and owing, plus attorney's fees and costs. Defendant was served with the summons and complaint but did not file an answer within the time required by Rule 6:3-1.
Accordingly, on May 23, 2008, the clerk's office entered default against defendant. On November 17, 2008, upon plaintiff's application, a default judgment was entered against defendant in the amount of $2,323.50, which represented the amount due under the contract, plus attorney's fees and costs.
Thereafter, defendant filed a motion to vacate the default judgment. The trial court entered an order on May 1, 2009, denying the motion. Defendant filed a second motion seeking reconsideration of the May 1, 2009 order. The trial court entered an order dated August 14, 2009, denying that motion.
Defendant appealed. In an unpublished opinion, we concluded that defendant had shown excusable neglect for his failure to file a timely answer, and also had established sufficient reasons which, if proven, would constitute a valid defense to Shoreline's claim. Shoreline Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Hafen, No. A-0269-09 (App. Div. July 16, 2010) (slip op. at 7-8). We concluded that the trial court had mistakenly exercised its discretion by denying defendant's motion to vacate the judgment and the motion for reconsideration. Id. at 8. We remanded the matter to the trial court so that defendant could file an answer to the complaint and the case could be heard on the merits. Id. at 2.
Trial on the matter took place on October 5 and 6, 2010. At the trial, Shoreline presented testimony from Daniel Anthony Brescia (Brescia), Shoreline's President. Brescia stated that Shoreline had agreed to perform certain electrical work at defendant's home at a total contract price of $17,411.
Brescia testified that Shoreline had completed all of the work with the exception of two electrical outlets in the kitchen, which could not be installed until a wall was constructed. Brescia stated that Shoreline sent several letters to defendant over a period of several months seeking access to the home so that it could complete the work. According to Brescia, plaintiff did not reply.
Brescia further testified that $1,500 remained due and owing on the contract. He also said that the contract allows Shoreline to recover attorney's fees and costs incurred in a collection action. Brescia's attorney had billed Shoreline $573 for his work, and Shoreline had paid that amount.
Defendant disputed Brescia's testimony. He testified that Shoreline had abandoned the project. He claimed that he contacted Shoreline many times and asked it to complete the work. Defendant said that when Shoreline failed to respond, he completed the work himself. Defendant further testified that Shoreline's work was not performed in a workmanlike manner. The court ruled, however, that defendant was not qualified to render an opinion on that issue and expert testimony was required.
In addition, defendant sought to admit certain public records which allegedly established that Shoreline had not, in fact, completed all of the work and that some of the work had not been performed in a workmanlike manner. The court found, however, that defendant had not established the foundation required for the admission of those records.
Furthermore, defendant endeavored to present testimony from Dennis Interdonato (Interdonato), a licensed builder, concerning the alleged deficiencies in Shoreline's work. The trial court ruled, however, that Interdonato could not testify as an expert in the field of electrical work because he did not have sufficient expertise in the field.
The trial court placed its decision on the record on October 20, 2010. The court accepted Brescia's testimony and found that that Shoreline had completed all of the work required under the contract, with the exception of the installation of the two outlets. The court further found that Shoreline had attempted over several months to go back and complete that work but defendant did not permit it to do so.
The court concluded that Shoreline was entitled to the $1,500 due under the contract. The court included the estimated cost of $200 for installation of the two uncompleted outlets because Shoreline would have performed that work if it had been allowed to return to the job. The court also concluded that Shoreline was entitled to attorney's fees under the contract and awarded Shoreline $500. The court entered a judgment for Shoreline in the amount of $2,000, plus costs. This appeal followed.
Defendant argues that: 1) the exhibit identifications were not consistent with the transcript of the October 6, 2010, proceedings; 2) Shoreline failed to provide proof that it complied with the terms of the contract; 3) the trial court erred by refusing to admit the proffered public records into evidence; 4) the trial court erred by failing to consider the "value" of his testimony and evidence; and 5) the trial court erred by denying a pre-trial request to adjourn the trial.
We are satisfied from our review of the record that these arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant extended discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). However, we add the following brief comments.
We will not disturb the factual findings of the trial court unless the findings "'are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice[.]'" Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974) (quoting Fagliarone v. Twp. of No. Bergen, 78 N.J. Super. 154, 155 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 40 N.J. 221 (1963)). We are satisfied that there is sufficient credible evidence to support the court's findings in this case.
The evidence supported the court's determination that Shoreline completed all of the work required under the contract, with the exception of the installation of two electrical outlets. The evidence also supported the court's determination that Shoreline would have installed those two outlets had defendant permitted it to do so. Thus, there is sufficient evidence to support the court's conclusion that Shoreline was entitled to the $1,500 remaining due and owing under the agreement, plus counsel fees and costs.
Defendant argues, however, that the court erred by refusing to admit certain public records into evidence. Those records are: 1) a change of contractor form indicating, among other things, that the electrical work failed inspection on September 2, 2008; 2) a correction notice of the Township's Bureau of Inspections, dated September 2, 2008, which identified certain work that needed to be completed or corrected; and 3) a certificate of occupancy signed on February 4, 2009. According to defendant, these records established that Shoreline had not completed certain work it had been contracted to perform and that some of the work had not been performed in a workmanlike manner.
Here, defendant failed to lay the foundation required for admission of these records. N.J.R.E. 902(a) provides that extrinsic evidence of authenticity is not required for the admission of a document "purporting to bear a signature affixed in an official capacity by an officer or employee of the State of New Jersey or of a political subdivision, department, office, or agency thereof."
The individuals who signed the documents that defendant wanted to admit were not identified. Therefore, the documents did not contain sufficient information to establish that the signatories were public officers or employees, who signed the documents in an official capacity. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to admit the records pursuant to N.J.R.E. 902(a).
In addition, N.J.R.E. 902(d) provides that extrinsic evidence of authenticity is not required for admission of a document when the custodian of records provides a certification indicating that the document is a copy of "an official record or report or entry therein, or of a document authorized by law to be recorded or filed and [is] actually recorded or filed in a public office[.]" Here, defendant did not present a certification from a custodian of records attesting to the authenticity of the records at issue. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to admit the documents pursuant to N.J.R.E. 902(d).
Furthermore, defendant did not establish a foundation for admission of the written statements in the records pursuant to N.J.R.E. 803(c)(8)(A), which allows the admission of a statement contained in a writing made by a public official of an act done by the official or an act, condition, or event observed by the official if it was within the scope of the official's duty either to perform the act reported or to observe the act, condition, or event reported and to make the written statement[.] [Ibid.]
As stated previously, defendant failed to show that the persons making the statements contained in the records were public officials or that the persons made the statements within the scope of their official duties.
Defendant additionally argues that the trial court erred by denying his request to adjourn the trial date. A decision on whether to grant or deny a motion for an adjournment is committed to the discretion of the trial court. State v. D'Orsi, 113 N.J. Super. 527, 532 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 58 N.J. 335 (1971). In our view, the denial of defendant's adjournment request was not an abuse of discretion.
As the record shows, this matter has been pending since 2008, and was remanded by this court for further proceedings in July 2010. The trial was initially scheduled for a date between August 23, and September 3, 2010. The trial was rescheduled for October 5, 2010. On October 1, 2010, defendant requested an adjournment of the trial date because he was involved with certain work in Hawaii and certain "unforeseen issues" had arisen. The court denied the request.
Defendant argues that the adjournment should have been granted because he had been working at the "overseas work location" for more than six weeks "straight." He says he did not have sufficient time to prepare "a defense strategy" or "develop an understanding" of the court rules. We are satisfied, however, that defendant had more than sufficient time to prepare his defense and familiarize himself with the court rules.
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