NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted June 18, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-1949-11.
Law Offices of Igor Sturm, attorneys for appellants (William C. MacMillan, on the brief).
Archer & Greiner, P.C., attorneys for respondent (Allen A. Etish, Benjamin D. Morgan and Kate A. Sozio, on the brief).
Before Judges Parrillo and Messano.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the Law Division judge granted plaintiff Re/Max of Cherry Hill, Inc. summary judgment and denied summary judgment to defendants Roman and Inna Malts. Defendants now appeal, arguing that, for various reasons, plaintiff was not entitled to summary judgment and their motion should have been granted dismissing plaintiff's complaint.
We conduct our review of a grant of summary judgment de novo applying the same standards that governed the trial court. Henry v. N.J. Dep't of Human Servs., 204 N.J. 320, 330 (2010). Initially, we determine whether the moving party has demonstrated there were no genuine disputes as to material facts. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hillside Bottling Co., 387 N.J.Super. 224, 230 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 189 N.J. 104 (2006). To the extent factual disputes exist, we accord the non-moving party the benefit of all favorable evidence and inferences in the motion record. Henry, supra, 204 N.J. at 329; see also R. 4:46-2(c). We then decide "whether the motion judge's application of the law was correct." Atl. Mut. Ins. Co., supra, 387 N.J.Super. at 231. In such review, "'[a] trial court's interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts are not entitled to any special deference.'" Estate of Hanges v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 202 N.J. 369, 382 (2010) (quoting Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995) (alteration in original)).
The undisputed facts in the motion record revealed that defendant Inna Malts (Inna) owned residential property in Cherry Hill. She listed the property for sale with plaintiff. Although plaintiff could not locate a buyer, it secured a tenant for the property, and, as a result, the property was leased to Johnny Young pursuant to a written lease agreement (the lease). Both defendants signed the lease agreement, and the landlord registration agreement, see N.J.S.A. 46:8-27, named both defendants as owners of the property. An addendum to the lease indicated that use of the property was limited to the tenant and his "immediate family only." Pursuant to the lease terms, plaintiff was entitled to a commission of $2500, equal to the monthly rent, and, if the lease was renewed or extended, plaintiff was entitled to one-half month's rent as a further commission. The lease further provided that, if the tenant purchased the property "at any time, " plaintiff was entitled to a six-percent commission.
The lease was for two years and expired on June 30, 2010. On the day the lease expired, Inna signed a contract for sale with Lilien Young, Johnny's mother, who had resided in the property. Johnny and Lilien remained in possession of the property on a month-to-month basis; they tendered rent which was accepted by defendants. On October 20, 2010, a closing took place and Inna conveyed the property to Lilien Young.
Plaintiff filed its complaint on April 15, 2011, seeking commissions for the sale of the property and for the interim extension of the lease. Plaintiff alleged breach of contract, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit. Default judgment was entered, but eventually vacated on defendants' motion. Defendants filed their answer and subsequently moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff cross-moved.
After considering oral argument, Judge Deborah Silverman Katz placed her oral opinion on the record. She noted that both Johnny and Lilien Young continuously resided in the property pursuant to the lease. The rental application listed Lilien as an occupant of the property. Lilien consistently made rental payments to defendants, which were accepted.
The judge further credited the undisputed assertion that Lilien was "out of the country" when the lease was actually executed. The judge noted that the final purchase price for the property reflected a reduction in price equivalent to the commission due plaintiff. Citing various precedent, Judge Silverman Katz determined Lilien was a "co-tenant, " and "the unambiguous intent of the parties coupled with the defendants' conduct clearly ...