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Peterson v. Hvm L.L.C.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 11, 2015

ANDREA PETERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
HVM L.L.C., et al., Defendants.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Andrea Peterson has moved for a preliminary injunction ordering several forms of relief. Some are not properly the subject of a preliminary injunction at all. Others seem to address harms that are not sufficiently connected to the alleged acts of the defendants. For the rest, I find that Peterson has not made a showing of irreparable harm. I will therefore deny the motion for a preliminary injunction.

Background

The LTL contract

This case stems from an alleged breach of a long-term lodging agreement between Peterson and a hotel. In 2009, plaintiff Andrea Peterson entered into a Long-Term Lodging Agreement with defendant HVM LLC (now Extended Stay America, or ESA). (LTL, 3) Under the agreement, ESA was to provide Peterson with lodging in one of its hotels, in exchange for which Peterson would pay $900 per month. (Compl., ¶ 2)[1]

That contract stated that it would expire "3 months (90 days)" after the date of the contract, which would be approximately May 19, 2009.[2] (LTL, 1) However, the agreement also provided that the parties could renew their contract "for additional 3 months (90 day) periods." (LTL, 1) The agreement did not specify any particular method for renewing the contract (for instance, it did not stipulate that the renewal needed to be in writing). And Peterson does not explicitly allege that this contract was ever renewed. However, she does allege that ESA breached the contract in October of 2012. (Compl., 2). One is left to assume that the parties renewed the contract (or at least that Peterson alleges that they did) for subsequent 3-month periods on several occasions between May of 2009 and October of 2012.

The LTL also provided that either party could terminate the contract at any time by giving the other party 30 days' written notice. ( See LTL, 3).

The state court proceedings

It appears that ESA attempted to exercise its option to terminate the agreement as early as June of 2012, when ESA initiated state court proceedings to remove Peterson from her room in their hotel. (NJ case number LT-9118-12) (Dkt. 10, Exh. D, 2) On July 18, 2012, ESA obtained a "warrant of removal" from a New Jersey state court. (Dkt. 10, Exh. D, 1) The warrant listed Peterson's address as "One Meadowlands Parkway, Room 507" in Secaucus. (Dkt. 10, Exh. D, 1) According to Peterson, though, she was not residing at that precise address in 2012. (Compl., ¶¶ 13)

ESA initiated a second suit and obtained another warrant of removal on September 10, 2012. (NJ case number LT-011864-12) (Compl., ¶¶ 8-9) This warrant of removal apparently listed Peterson's residence as "One Plaza Drive, Room 504" (not 507) in Secaucus. (Compl., ¶ 8) On September 14, 2012, ESA posted the notice of removal on the door of Peterson's room (which was apparently room 507). (Compl., ¶ 11) Sometime after that, it appears that a default judgment was entered against Peterson in this second case (No. LT-011864-12). ( See Dkt. No. 10, Exh. F)

It appears that Peterson did become aware of at least this second notice of removal. Peterson's complaint states that "Defendants did not serve plaintiff." (Compl. ¶ 16; see also Affidavit, ¶ 6 ("I was never served summons.")). But she does aver that the warrant in case number LT-011864-12 was posted on the door of her room. (Compl., ¶ 11) She also recounts that on August 17, 2012, a letter was slid under her door with a return address of Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Part. (Dkt. No. 10, Exh. C, ¶¶ 1-2) For reasons that are not clear, Peterson did not open the letter. Instead, she asked the hotel manager to mark the envelope "return to sender" and return it to the post office. She stated that she does not accept mail at the hotel address; she accepts mail only at a post office box. (Dkt. No. 10, Exh. C, ¶¶ 2-3)

In any case, on September 19, 2012, Peterson moved to dismiss both of ESA's state court suits against her. (Dkt. No. 10, Exh. C) The state court held a hearing on October 2, 2012. At that hearing, the Honorable Marybeth Rogers vacated the default judgment and dismissed case number LT-11864-12. (Dkt. No. 10, Exh. F) Judge Rogers, agreeing with Peterson, held that a clause in the LTL explicitly provided that the parties were not entering into a landlord/tenant relationship. (LTL, 2 ("[T]he parties acknowledge and agree that the legal relationship between HVM and the Lodger is that of a hotel manager and guest and that it is not the intention of the parties to create a lease within the meaning of the laws of this State.")). Because Peterson was not a tenant, the court (Special Civil Part, Landlord/Tenant Division) held that it lacked jurisdiction to issue a warrant of removal. (Dkt. No. 10, Exh. F) The court vacated the two warrants of removal and dismissed case number LT-11864-12. ESA then withdrew its complaint in case number LT-9118-12. (Dkt. No. 10, Exh. F)

The lockout

Peterson alleges that the next morning, October 3, 2012, the hotel manager told Peterson that he was "putting [Peterson] out of the hotel." (Compl., ¶ 23) That afternoon, the hotel locked Peterson out of her room by disabling her key-card access. (Compl., ¶ 25) According to Peterson, the hotel did not allow her to enter her room to collect her personal belongings until the next day, when she was escorted to her room by police. (Compl., ¶ 27-28)

Peterson filed suit in New Jersey state court, requesting a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction requiring the hotel to provide Peterson with lodging. (Compl., ¶ 30) The court held a hearing on Peterson's motions for injunctive relief on October 19, 2012. Judge Mary K. Costello denied Peterson's motions. (Hearing, 6)[3] Judge Costello held that Ms. Peterson had not shown that irreparable harm would result if an injunction did not issue. (Hearing, 6) She noted that the hotel had refunded Peterson's lodging fee for the month of October, and that Peterson had stayed in at least one hotel since being locked out of ESA. (Hearing, 7) Peterson's state court complaint was dismissed entirely on May 2, 2013. (Affidavit, ¶ 120)

This federal lawsuit

Peterson commenced this federal court action on October 16, 2013. ( See Dkt. No. 1) She filed her complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where she has taken up residence. ( See Dkt. No. 1; Georgia Order, 3)

The complaint names as defendants HVM L.L.C and Extended Stay America. (Compl., 1) She also named as defendants Centerbridge Partners LP, Paulson & Company, and Blackstone Real Estate Partners VI, each of ...


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