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Hibbert v. Bellmawr Park Mutual Housing Corporation

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 27, 2014

MARK E. HIBBERT, Plaintiff,
v.
BELLMAWR PARK MUTUAL HOUSING CORPORATION, PAT LEVINS, and BOB McCORMICK, Defendants.

BARRY J. BERAN, ESQUIRE, BERAN & BERAN, ESQS., CHERRY HILL, NJ, Attorney for Plaintiff Mark E. Hibbert, Sr.

WILLIAM J. MARTIN, ESQUIRE, MARTIN, GUNN & MARTIN, WESTMONT, NJ, Attorney for Defendants Bellmawr Park Mutual Housing Corporation and Pat Levins.

JOSEPH M. FEENEY, BROWN & CONNERY, WOODBURY, NJ, Attorney for Defendant Bob McCormick.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Currently pending before the Court are Motion and Supplemental Motion for Summary Judgment of defendant Bob McCormick, and Second Motion for Summary Judgment[1] filed by defendants Bellmawr Park Mutual Housing Corporation and Pat Levins ("Bellmawr Park Defendants"). For the reasons that follow, the Motions will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[2]

Hibbert, who is deaf, was a resident of Bellmawr Park, a non-profit corporation that provides low-cost housing in southern New Jersey. Bellmawr Park owns the housing project, but neither sells nor rents any of the homes to individual members. A resident enters into a "Mutual Ownership Contract" in which the resident agrees to purchase a right of perpetual use of the dwelling and pay low monthly payments to Bellmawr Park. A resident may surrender the dwelling back to Bellmawr Park, and may sell any improvements he made to the dwelling.

In 2009, Plaintiff expressed an intent to sell the house and move to Maine with his wife, who is also deaf, and two children. Plaintiff met with the Bellmawr Park Board of Trustees on December 1, 2009 to discuss his intent to sell his home and terminate his membership in Bellmawr Park. Hibbert's teenage son, Mark Hibbert Jr. ("Mark Jr."), served some role as his interpreter during the meeting. Defendant Levins and several other members of the Board also attended the meeting. According to Plaintiff, he requested that a sign language interpreter be present, but one was not provided. Hibbert maintains that he is unsure of what actually occurred at the meeting because he could not hear and was unable to understand. He also contends that he never made a firm commitment to sell his interest in his property and move to Maine.

Following the December 2009 meeting, defendant Robert McCormick was contacted by Levins who told him that Hibbert wanted to sell his home and its improvements. Following this initial contact, McCormick and Hibbert engaged in some form of communications regarding the sale of the property over the course of several months.[3] During these conversations, Mark Jr., at the time a minor, served as the intermediary and interpreter.

Hibbert also made inquiries about properties in Maine. In February of 2010, he applied for a loan in the amount of $124, 000 from Peoples United Bank. On the loan application, Hibbert listed his contact address as "Maine, TBD." In early March of 2010, the Bank denied the request for the loan.

During supplemental discovery, Defendants obtained documents regarding the purchase of a home by Hibbert in Maine.[4] On January 21, 2010, Hibbert signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement for the purchase of a mobile home property at 2196 Sanford Road, Lot 28, Wells, Maine. On February 1, 2010, Hibbert entered into an Addendum to that agreement executed on February 24, 2010.

However, it appears that Hibbert changed his mind about wanting to buy 2196 Sanford Road at some point between executing those agreements and March 3, 2010. During supplemental discovery, Plaintiff's real estate agent, Donna DuBois Miller, was deposed and testified that Plaintiff emailed her stating that he no longer wanted to go through with the deal. She also testified that on March 3, 2010, she emailed Hibbert advising him that the sellers were very upset with Hibbert's intentions to back out of the sale of 2196 Sanford Road, that he would lose his deposit, and that they were considering taking legal action against him, including payment of legal fees. She further testified that as of that date, she considered the sale of 2196 Sanford Road to be "dead."

Nonetheless, following that email, on March 5, 2010, Mark Jr. contacted Levins to inform her of his father's intent to sell the Bellmawr property and vacate the premises. Although the date of his signature is in contention, at some point Hibbert had signed a "move-out form" which indicated that he was moving and provided an address in Wells, Maine for future contact purposes.

On March 7, 2010, Hibbert received a check in the amount of $20, 000[5] from McCormick. Hibbert originally told the Court that he did not know what the check was for, that it was handed to him in an envelope on the day he moved out, and that he had neither negotiated nor entered into any agreement to sell his interest in the property. He admitted depositing the check into his bank account on March 8, 2010, but states that he did so for "safekeeping." However, during supplemental discovery, it was determined through the testimony of Dubois Miller that Hibbert needed $17, 000 in order to close on the Maine property.

On March 7, 2010, Plaintiff and his wife moved out of Bellmawr Park. Plaintiff hired a moving truck to assist with the move and spent the night packing. Approximately eleven individuals were present during the move, including Levins and several members of Plaintiff's family. According to Levins, all of Plaintiff's belongings were packed and ready to move out that morning, and she communicated with him during the move primarily through handwritten notes.

On March 8, 2010, Plaintiff attended a closing to purchase 2196 Sanford Road in Wells, Maine. During supplemental discovery, DuBois Miller testified that Hibbert did not have certified funds available at the closing, but that he had deposited a check that morning. She stated that Hibbert went to the bank that day to withdrawal $17, 000 from funds he just deposited. Hibbert also signed a HUD-1 Settlement Sheet for the purchase of 2196 Sanford Road and obtained a Bill of Sale. Hibbert also executed a Promissory Note and a Security Agreement. DuBois Miller further testified that following the closing, she accompanied Hibbert to 2196 Sanford Road, Lot 28, Wells, Maine at which time he moved in with his family.

Hibbert claims that he was unlawfully evicted and forced to move out of his home in New Jersey on March 7, 2010, and that Levins, McCormick, and Mark Jr. took advantage of his disability and engaged in some sort of scheme to acquire his property. He points to the hurried nature of the move, McCormick's aggressive pursuit of the property, his minor son's contacts with the Defendants, the overall lack of communication and confusion stemming from his disability, the "unexplained" check provided just two days before he vacated the premises in an amount below the value of the improvements, and the absence of any documents memorialized a conveyance of an interest in the property as evidence that Defendants took advantage of him and forced him from the property.

Hibbert filed an amended complaint asserting the following counts against Defendants: (1) breach of contract; (2) violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A § 10:5-12 et seq.; (3) violation of the New Jersey Fair Eviction Notice Act, N.J.S.A. § 2A:42-10.15 et seq.; (4) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; (5) violation of the New Jersey Statute of Frauds, N.J.S.A. § 25:1-5 et seq.; and (6) violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.

On July 16, 2012, Defendants Bellmawr Park and Levins moved for summary judgment on the entirety of Plaintiff's amended complaint. That motion was granted in part and denied in part. Count III (New Jersey Statute of Frauds claim), Count IV (ADA), and Count V (New Jersey Fair Eviction Notice Act claim) were dismissed as to the Bellmawr Park defendants. Defendants' request to dismiss ...


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