April 4, 2012
JANET PALMER-CARRI, APPELLANT,
MAPLEWOOD VILLAGE CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC., RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Department of Law & Public Safety, Division on Civil Rights, Docket No. HN-19JT-61444.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued October 4, 2011
Before Judges Messano and Espinosa.
Plaintiff Janet Palmer-Carri appeals from a final administrative agency decision of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ("DCR" or "the Division"). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Palmer-Carri has owned a condominium unit in the Maplewood Village condominium complex since approximately April 2008. In July 2008, she filed a complaint against defendant Maplewood Village Condominium Association, Inc. (the Association) with the DCR.*fn1 In her complaint, Palmer-Carri stated that on or about June 1, 2008, the Association "refused to make repairs in the condominium and increased the maintenance fees" and that "she pays more in maintenance fees than other units." She alleged further that this "adverse action [was] because of her sex and disability." DCR rendered its finding of no probable cause in April 2009. Palmer-Carri did not appeal from that decision.
In May 2010, Palmer-Carri filed a second complaint against the Association, alleging that it had discriminated against her in violation of the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49 (LAD), in retaliation for filing her earlier complaint. Specifically, Palmer-Carri alleged that the Association "failed to complete her request for repairs and denied her the installation of a Satellite dish on or about February 3, 2010[.]" Following an investigation, DCR concluded that Palmer-Carri's claim was not substantiated and closed its file for lack of probable cause.
In this appeal, Palmer-Carri presents the following argument:
CLAIMANT REQUESTING GRANTING OF APPEAL DUE TO THE DISCRIM[IN]ATION AND STRESS EXPERIENCED BY THE CLAIMANT, DUE TO FALSE AND INACCURATE INFORMATION GIVEN TO THE DIVISION[']S INVESTIGATORS, AND INFORMATION WHICH CLAIMANT GAVE TO THE INVESTIGATOR WHICH WAS MISQUOTED AND INACCURATELY PLACED IN THE DIVISION[']S REPORT.
After carefully reviewing the record in light of applicable legal principles, we are satisfied that this argument lacks sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion, Rule 2:11-3(e)(1)(E), beyond the following comments.
The scope of our review in an appeal from a final decision of an administrative agency is limited. Circus Liquors, Inc. v. Governing Body of Middletown Twp., 199 N.J. 1, 9 (2009). We must sustain the agency's action in the absence of a "'clear showing' that it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or that it lacks fair support in the record[.]" Ibid.
The Division was created to administer and enforce the State's anti-discrimination laws, N.J.S.A. 10:5-6, and its Director is charged with the responsibility to determine whether there is "probable cause" that a violation of the LAD has occurred. N.J.A.C. 13:4-10.2(b). To present a prima facie claim of retaliation under N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(d), Palmer-Carri was required to demonstrate (1) she engaged in a protected activity known to the Association; (2) thereafter, the Association unlawfully retaliated against her; and (3) her participation in the protected activity caused the retaliation. Tartaglia v. UBS PaineWebber, Inc., 197 N.J. 81, 125 (2008). Although the first prong was satisfied by Palmer-Carri's filing of her first complaint, the record failed to present prima facie proof of unlawful retaliation. Consequently, the final prong requiring proof of causation also failed.
In her detailed findings, the Director noted it was undisputed that the Association had made repairs to the roof and gutters in response to Palmer-Carri's complaints regarding water damage in her unit. The Association's refusal to make repairs to the interior of Palmer-Carri's unit was consistent with Article VI, Section VII(B) of the Association's Bylaws, and also with the Association's rejection of similar requests made by other unit owners for water damage repairs to their respective units.
As for the allegation that the Association denied appellant's request to install a satellite dish at her unit as a retaliatory act, the Director reviewed the correspondence between the Association, its attorney and her. The correspondence revealed that, after the Association's attorney asked Palmer-Carri to provide "a detailed description of how [the dish will be secured] in a safe manner without encroaching upon the Common Elements[,]" Palmer-Carri did not respond. There was, then, no denial of her request by the Association, let alone one that could suffice as an act of reprisal.
Palmer-Carri made additional allegations of retaliation while the investigation was pending. We are satisfied that the Director's determination that these allegations were not substantiated was adequately supported by the record. Similarly, we find no merit in her argument that the Division failed to use or misapplied all the evidence given to support her claims.