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Zehm v. Morgan Properties

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 21, 2018

AVA ZEHM, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
MORGAN PROPERTIES and MOORESTOWNE WOODS APARTMENT ASSOCIATES, LLC d/b/a MOORESTOWNE WOODS APARTMENT ASSOCIATES, LP, Defendants.

          LEWIS G. ADLER LAW OFFICE OF LEWIS ADLER 26 NEWTON AVENUE WOODBURY, N.J. 08096 PAUL DEPETRIS LAW OFFICE OF PAUL DEPETRIS 532 ROUTE 70 WEST, 2ND FLOOR CHERRY HILL, N.J. 08002 On behalf of Plaintiff Ava Zehm.

          RACHEL C. HEINRICH DANIEL S. BERNHEIM WILENTZ GOLDMAN & SPITZER, P.A. TWO PENN CENTER SUITE 910 PHILADELPHIA, PA 19102 On behalf of Defendants Morgan Properties Management Company, LLC and Moorestowne Woods Apartment Associates, LLC.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This is a putative class action concerning allegedly illegal provisions in a residential lease. Claims were originally brought under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”), the New Jersey Truth-in-Renting Act (“TRA”), and New Jersey common law. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Ava Zehm's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint and Defendants Morgan Properties Management Company, LLC's (“Morgan Properties”) and Moorestown Wood Apartment Associates, LLC's (“MWAA” and, collectively with Morgan Properties, the “Morgan Defendants”) opposition. The Court will grant, in part, and deny, in part, without prejudice, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint.

         BACKGROUND

         This Court takes its facts from Plaintiff's January 18, 2017 complaint. Plaintiff lived in an apartment in Moorestown, New Jersey owned by MWAA. The apartment complex consisted of approximately 172 residential units and was managed by Morgan Properties. Plaintiff executed her first lease with MWAA in 2014 for the rental of an apartment (the “First Lease”). Plaintiff renewed her lease in 2015, signing a second lease (the “Second Lease”).

         As part of her leases, Plaintiff signed a utility addendum, which provided that charges for water would be based on the number of bedrooms in each resident's apartment unit. Plaintiff's leases also contained a provision that stated, in pertinent part, that with regard to a breach of the lease, if an attorney is employed, including in-house counsel, the resident was required to pay $400 in attorneys' fees. That amount could be reduced to $200 “in the event an eviction action is filed . . . for non-payment of rent, and [the tenant] pay[s] all rent due.” The Morgan Defendants filed a complaint in January 2016 against Plaintiff for rent due. The complaint declared $873.85 due and owing: $331.65 for rent due, a $142.20 late charge, and $400 in attorneys' fees. Following that litigation, Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against Defendants, [1] which was removed to federal court on March 15, 2017. The complaint alleged:

Count One: violation of the TRA based on the attorneys' fees provision (against Morgan Defendants)
Count Two: violation of the TRA based on the utility addendum (against Morgan Defendants)
Count Three: violation of the CFA based on the attorneys' fees provision (against Morgan Defendants)
Count Four: civil conspiracy based on the attorneys' fees provision (against Morgan Defendants)
Count Five: violation of the CFA based on the utility addendum (against all Defendants)
Count Six: civil conspiracy based on the utility addendum (against ...

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