On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Docket No. L-2458-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 5, 2011
Before Judges Cuff and St. John.
Defendant LaDora Griffin appeals an order dated December 6, 2010, denying her motion for an award of attorney's fees pursuant to Rule 1:4-8, based on an allegedly frivolous complaint filed against her by plaintiff, Brooks Sloate Terrace Cooperative Association, Inc.
On June 4, 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant, seeking a declaratory judgment that defendant violated plaintiff's housing cooperative rules prohibiting offensive conduct, which, if successful, could result in an eviction order against defendant.
On September 30, 2009, defendant answered the complaint, denying all of plaintiff's allegations, and counterclaimed that plaintiff breached its proprietary lease agreement with her. On October 20, 2009, plaintiff requested, by letter, that defendant withdraw her counterclaim, pursuant to Rule 1:4-8, as the counterclaim was frivolous. On October 26, 2009, defendant mailed an almost identical letter to plaintiff, requesting a withdrawal of the complaint, claiming it was also frivolous. Neither was withdrawn.
On December 2, 2009, plaintiff responded to defendant's first set of interrogatories. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to dismiss for failure to make discovery pursuant to Rule 4:23, on the ground that plaintiff failed to provide adequate discovery materials sufficient to support its complaint. The motion judge heard oral arguments on January 22, 2010, and denied defendant's motion to dismiss. However, plaintiff subsequently agreed to supply defendant with additional discovery listed on a rider attached to the court's order. On January 27 and February 5, 2010, plaintiff provided defendant with the supplemental discovery.
Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment on defendant's counterclaim. Defendant then filed a motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's complaint. On September 16, 2010, the motion judge heard oral arguments and granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. On September 27, 2010, the motion judge again heard oral arguments and granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on defendant's counterclaims.
On October 15, 2010, defendant filed a notice of motion seeking an award of attorney's fees pursuant to Rule 1:4-8 and Rule 4:23-2. On November 22, 2010, plaintiff opposed the motion, denying any frivolous litigation. On November 26, 2010, defendant submitted a letter brief in support of her motion for attorney's fees sanctions, and on November 29, 2010, defendant submitted a reply to plaintiff's brief opposing the motion.*fn1
On December 6, 2010, the court heard oral arguments on defendant's motion for attorney's fees sanctions. On that same day, the court entered an order denying defendant's motion.
Defendant timely filed a notice of appeal on December 29, 2010. In her appeal, defendant argues the motion judge failed to consider the motion for sanctions under Rule 1:4-8, and only addressed Rule 4:23-2.
To the extent that the trial court's decision implicates legal principles, we independently evaluate those legal assessments de novo. See Finderne Mgmt. Co. v. Barrett, 402 N.J. Super. 546, 573 (App. Div. 2008) ("[W]e do not owe any special deference to a trial court's legal conclusion[.]"), certif. denied, 199 N.J. 542 (2009).
Our review of the motion judge's decision is limited to determining whether the award or denial of such sanctions constituted an abuse of discretion. Ferolito v. Park Hill Ass'n, 408 N.J. Super. 401, 407 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 200 N.J. 502 (2009). "Reversal is warranted when 'the discretionary act was not premised upon consideration of all relevant factors, was based upon consideration of irrelevant or inappropriate factors, or ...