May 28, 2013
RICHARD PARTYKA, Plaintiff-Respondent,
MODESTA M. MEZA-ROLE, Defendant-Appellant. RICHARD PARTYKA, Plaintiff-Respondent,
MODESTA M. MEZA-ROLE, Defendant-Appellant.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued May 14, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Essex County, Docket Nos. LT-7465-12 and LT-23985-12.
Eloy E. Role argued the cause for pro se appellant. 
Richard Partyka, respondent, argued the cause pro se.
Before Judges Yannotti and Hoffman.
In A-5738-11, defendant Modesta M. Meza-Role (Meza-Role) appeals from an order entered by the Special Civil Part on July 23, 2012, finding that plaintiff Richard Partyka (Partyka) was entitled to a judgment of possession for premises that Partyka leased to Meza-Role. In A-561-12, Meza-Role appeals from an order entered by the Special Civil Part on September 18, 2012, which denied her application to transfer the matter to the Civil Part and determined that Partyka was entitled to a judgment of possession. We consolidate the appeals for decision and now affirm the orders challenged in both cases.
We briefly summarize the pertinent facts, based on the record provided by the parties. It appears that Meza-Role and Partyka entered into an agreement, under which Partyka leased to Meza-Role premises on Garrison Street in Newark, New Jersey. The initial term of the lease was for one year, commencing on September 1, 1997. It seems that the lease was renewed thereafter. Apparently, various disputes arose between the parties concerning their respective obligations under that agreement.
In April 2011, Meza-Role and her husband, Eloy E. Role (Role), filed an action against Partyka in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. This case was docketed as Civil Action No. 11-2307. The record before us does not include a copy of the complaint. Meza-Role says that in the federal action she asserted various claims, including a claim under the federal housing laws. Thereafter, Meza-Role and Role filed several amended complaints in that case.
It appears that one of the disputes between the parties concerned the obligation to provide hot water to the leased premises. The 1997 lease provided in relevant part that the tenants were responsible to pay for electric, gas and heat, while the landlord agreed to "supply and pay for" hot and cold water for the bathroom and kitchen.
Meza-Role and Role claimed that Partyka was obligated under the lease to pay for the gas required to heat the water for the premises, while Partyka maintained that the tenants were required to pay this cost. Apparently because of this dispute, on January 25, 2012, Role asked Public Service Electric & Gas Company (PSE&G) to terminate the gas service account for the leased premises. As a consequence, there was no hot water in the apartment.
On January 30, 2012, Meza-Role and Role filed a motion in the federal court seeking an order compelling Partyka to immediately restore the hot water. On February 9, 2012, Partyka responded to the motion, stating that he did not deprive Role and his family of hot water. Partyka noted that the "situation" was of Role's "own doing and part of a careful, although crazy plan to try to force a hardship on himself and his family and make it look as though [Partyka was] responsible."
Partyka also pointed out that Role had instructed PSE&G to turn off the gas service to the apartment, which he noted was necessary to operate the hot water heater. Partyka said the four tenants in the building had their own hot water heaters and paid for the gas required for their heat and hot water. Partyka added that the tenants paid these costs since he owned the building and prior thereto. He said that Role had paid for his own utilities during "his entire tenancy" without raising any objection.
It is unclear from the record whether the federal district court ever ruled on Meza-Role's and Role's motion. It appears, however, that in February 2012, Meza-Role and Role moved in the federal court for permission to set up an escrow account for the deposit of their rental payments. The record does not disclose whether the federal court ever ruled on that motion but apparently Meza-Role began to deposit the monthly rent payments in a bank account and provided notice of the deposits to the federal court.
On March 7, 2012, Partyka filed a complaint in the Special Civil Part, seeking a judgment of possession on the basis of non-payment of rent pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(a).
In March 2012, Meza-Role and Role filed another complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. This case was docketed as Civil Action No. 12-1879. The record does not include a copy of this complaint.
On April 3, 2012, the Special Civil Part judge stayed the proceedings on Partyka's complaint until the federal court litigation between the parties was resolved.
On June 25, 2012, the federal district court entered an order in Civil Action No. 11-2307, dismissing counts one through five of the second amended complaint with prejudice. The court also dismissed count six of the complaint without prejudice, but permitted Meza-Role and Role to file a third amended complaint within fourteen days of the order, provided they cured the deficiencies noted in the court's opinion of June 25, 2012. The record does not include the court's opinion or order.
The parties appeared in the Special Civil Part again on July 23, 2012. Role told the judge that there were two federal cases pending. He also stated that the federal court was going to issue a ruling on August 8, 2012, and the court would rule that the state court had jurisdiction to entertain Partyka's complaint.
Partyka informed the judge of the federal court's earlier ruling dismissing the claims in one of the federal actions. Partyka indicated, however, that another case was still pending in the federal court. Partyka told the judge that Meza-Role had not paid rent since January 2012, and her failure to pay rent was causing him a hardship.
The judge questioned Role, who conceded that rent had not been paid for six months. Role said the monthly rent payments had been deposited in a bank account. He also said that there was no gas service for the apartment, and he and Meza-Role only had cold water.
The judge determined that the Special Civil Part had jurisdiction to entertain Partyka's complaint, noting that the federal court cases did not involve possession but rather concerned a dispute between the parties about the cost of providing certain utilities to the premises. The judge found that Meza-Role owed Partyka rent in the amount of $4, 416.
The judge stated that unless that sum was deposited in court that day, along with filing fees of $29, a judgment of possession would be entered for Partyka. It appears that Meza-Role paid the required amount into court and Partyka's complaint was dismissed. Meza-Role thereafter filed a notice of appeal from the judge's July 23, 2012 order.
It appears that after Partyka's complaint was resolved, Meza-Role continued to withhold rent payments. This led to the filing by Partyka of another complaint, in which he again sought a judgment for possession on the basis of non-payment of rent. In August 2012, Meza-Role filed a motion seeking an order transferring the action to the Civil Part.
The judge considered that matter on September 11, 2012, and September 18, 2012. The judge denied Meza-Role's motion, noting that Partyka's complaint sought possession of the leased premises, whereas Meza-Role apparently wanted to litigate a dispute with Partyka for alleged overpayments of rent. The judge rejected Meza-Role's habitability defense and found that she owed rent in the amount of $1, 470.
The judge ordered Meza-Role to pay to Partyka that amount by the following day, or a judgment of possession would be entered in his favor. Apparently, Meza-Role paid the required amount and Partyka's complaint was dismissed. Meza-Role thereafter filed a notice of appeal from the judge's September 18, 2012 order.
We note that on October 1, 2012, the federal district court entered an order in Civil Action No. 11-2307, dismissing with prejudice the sixth claim asserted by Meza-Role and Role in that case. The order noted that Meza-Role and Role had not filed a third amended complaint, as permitted by the court's June 25, 2012 order. In addition, on October 15, 2012, the federal district court entered an order in Civil Action No. 12-1879, which dismissed all of the federal claims asserted in that case with prejudice, and dismissed the other claims without prejudice. These orders terminated both federal matters. Meza-Role and Role apparently filed appeals from the federal district court's orders.
In her appeal from the Special Civil Part judge's July 23, 2012 order, Meza-Role argues that: (1) the judge erred by vacating his prior ruling staying Partyka's complaint pending proceedings in the federal district court; (2) the pre-emption doctrine applied to the case; (3) Partyka lied to the judge when he indicated that the federal court cases had been dismissed; (4) the judge's July 23, 2012 decision should be reversed; and (5) the matter should be remanded to a different judge.
We conclude from our review of the record that these arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). However, we add the following. We are convinced that the judge did not err by exercising jurisdiction and considering Partyka's complaint.
The record indicates that, on July 23, 2012, all of the claims in the federal case docketed as Civil Action No. 11-2307, had been dismissed. While the federal district court's June 25, 2012 order permitted Meza-Role and Role to file another amended complaint asserting one of their claims, they did not do so. Although the other federal action was still pending at the time, Role told the judge that the federal district court had ruled the state court could exercise jurisdiction in the matter. We cannot say whether Role's statement was correct. Nevertheless, Role told the judge he could exercise jurisdiction.
Furthermore, Meza-Role never established that the federal court action precluded the state court from entertaining Partyka's complaint for possession of the leased premises. She did not present the Special Civil Part with a federal court order precluding the exercise of jurisdiction. Accordingly, we conclude that the judge did not err by exercising jurisdiction.
In her appeal from the judge's September 18, 2012 ruling, Meza-Role raises the following arguments: (1) the trial court abused its discretion by denying her motion to transfer the case to the Civil Part; (2) the judge erred because Partyka never authenticated her signature on the lease dated September 2005; and (3) the case was of sufficient importance to warrant its transfer to the Civil Part.
We are convinced from our review of the record that these arguments are also without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). However, we add the following. We are satisfied that the judge did not err by denying Meza-Role's motion to transfer the case to the Civil Part.
As we have explained, Partyka was seeking a judgment of possession of the leased premises for non-payment of rent. Although Meza-Role apparently wished to pursue a claim against Partyka for past overpayments of rent, that did not preclude the judge from considering Partyka's complaint for possession, based on Meza-Role's admitted failure to make the current rent payments. The judge noted that if Meza-Role had any claim against Partyka for overpayment of rent she could bring a separate action against him
In addition the judge correctly refused to entertain Meza-Role's habitability defense As the record shows the premises did not have hot water because Role had the gas turned off A tenant cannot assert that premises are uninhabitable due to a lack of hot water after the tenant cancelled the gas service rendering the hot water heater inoperable The judge also found that Meza-Role owed Partyka rent in the amount of $1470 There is sufficient credible evidence in the record to support that finding
Accordingly the orders appealed from in A-5738-11 and A-561-12 are affirmed