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Peltier v. Barbera

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 10, 2013

SONYA PELTIER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JUSTIN BARBERA, Defendant-Respondent.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued December 3, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Docket No. DC-5760-12.

Mark J. Molz argued the cause for appellant.

Respondent has not filed a brief.

Before Judges Fisher and Espinosa.

PER CURIAM

Plaintiff, a homeowner, filed a complaint in the Special Civil Part in which she alleged that defendant, a contractor, had breached his contract with her by failing to complete work for which he was paid by her homeowner's insurance carrier. Following a bench trial, the trial court found she had proven the defendant was liable for breach of contract but dismissed her complaint because, the court found, plaintiff had failed to prove she had suffered any damages as a result of the breach. Plaintiff appeals from that judgment.[1] We reverse.

The scope of our appellate review of judgment entered in a non-jury case is limited. We exercise our original fact-finding jurisdiction sparingly and will not disturb the findings on which the trial court's judgment is based "unless they are so wholly insupportable as to result in a denial of justice." Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 483-84 (1974) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord In re Trust Created by Agreement Dated Dec. 20, 1961, ex rel. Johnson, 194 N.J. 276, 284 (2008). "Findings by the trial judge are considered binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence." Rova Farms, supra, 65 N.J. at 484. Therefore, our first inquiry is to determine whether "there is substantial evidence in support of the trial judge's findings and conclusions." Ibid. In this case, we find that the record fails to support the trial court's conclusion that plaintiff failed to prove she suffered any damages as a result of defendant's breach.

Because the trial court's finding of liability is unchallenged on appeal, we need not engage in an extensive review of the facts.

After plaintiff's home sustained damage from a storm, defendant, a home improvement contractor, suggested she file a claim with her homeowner's insurance carrier. The parties entered into an "Insurance Restoration Contracting Services" agreement, dated June 19, 2011, in which defendant agreed to complete all repairs to plaintiff's property identified in the insurance carrier's worksheet. The agreement stated, "IF THE OWNER'S INSURANCE CLAIM IS DENIED, THIS CONTRACT IS VOID."

The carrier engaged United Storm Adjusters to assess the damage and estimate the cost of repairs for the scope of damages covered by the claim. The adjuster inspected the damage on August 12, 2011 and prepared an estimate, which identified the necessary repairs and concluded that plaintiff was entitled to receive $13, 558.17 to satisfy her claim, identified by the Claim Number 052600250426.

Thereafter, the parties entered into another written contract, dated September 16, 2011, that made explicit reference to Claim Number 0562600250426. ...


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