NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 12, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Hudson County, Docket No. DC-14362-12.
John C. Spadora, attorney for appellant.
Feintuch, Porwich & Feintuch, attorneys for respondent (Philip Feintuch and Matthew Kohut, on the brief).
Before Judges Harris and Guadagno.
Defendant Muneshwar Naurang appeals from a September 14, 2012 Special Civil Part order denying his motion for reconsideration of an August 1, 2012 judgment for $15, 000 entered in favor of plaintiff Latrice George, following a thirty-minute summary proceeding. See R. 6:1-2(a)(4). We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
Because the parties commenced and tried this matter as pro se litigants, the record is fragmented and incomplete. Our review also has been hampered by the informal and jumbled presentation of oral and documentary evidence that was allowed by the trial judge. Nevertheless, we glean the following from what the parties —— now both represented by counsel —— have presented on appeal.
For some time prior to July 2012, George was Naurang's tenant at premises located in Jersey City. George never paid her share of rent due for July 2012, although a portion of it was received by Naurang from welfare authorities. Some time late in July 2012 —— while operating under a misunderstanding that George had abandoned the premises —— Naurang entered the leasehold to remove the remaining belongings. According to Naurang, after unsuccessfully trying to contact George, when he "enter[ed] the apartment the place [was] in total disarray. There's like pampers on the living room floor that have feces on it, and like mice been eating it, and so forth because it's been [uninhabited] awhile."
George did not dispute that she was in the process of moving out of the apartment at the time, testifying, "I did move some stuff out. I . . . threw stuff away, but I did not tell [Naurang] I was moving out. I told [him] when I'm about to move I'll give you [thirty] day[s] notice." George vehemently denied that the premises smelled from her daughter's potty, from leftover meat, or from urine.
When George learned of Naurang's unauthorized entry, she rushed to the property and discovered that her leftover possessions —— including food, furniture, toys, and electronic equipment —— had been unceremoniously dumped on the curb. After calling the police, George left her possessions "in the garbage" because she had to "get [her] kids to safety because it was raining and thundering that night."
Amidst the tumult of the trial, when the trial judge asked George, "[a]re you seeking to re-enter that apartment, " George unequivocally answered, "[n]o, I just want my stuff back." And, although George claimed that she was locked-out of the apartment, the court did not find that George was deprived of possession of the premises, telling Naurang, "The point is, as far as the Court is concerned, not that you locked her out, but ...