United States District Court, D. New Jersey
McNulty, United States District Judge.
Peterson, pro se, brought this action against HVM L.L.C.
("HVM"), Extended Stay America ("ESA"),
Centerbridge Partners LP ("Centerbridge"), Paulson
& Company ("Paulson"), and Blackstone Real
Estate Partners VI ("Blackstone"). On motion (DE
32), I dismissed all claims against Centerbridge, Paulson,
and Blackstone (the "Investors."), as well as
certain other claims against ESA and HVA. (DE 52). Now before
the Court is the motion of ESA and HVA (for purposes of this
Opinion, the "Defendants") for summary judgment on
the remaining counts of the complaint (DE 141), as well as
Ms. Peterson's cross motion for a stay. (DE 150).
reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion of the
Defendants, ESA and HVM, for summary judgment and deny Ms.
Peterson's cross motion for a stay.
about February 19, 2009, Ms. Peterson entered into the Long
Term Lodging Agreement (the "Agreement") with the
Defendants, pursuant to which Ms. Peterson became a guest at
the Extended Stay of America Secaucus Hotel (the
"Hotel"). (DSF ¶ 22). Ms. Peterson and
Defendants are in accord that the Agreement is a valid
contract. (DSF ¶ 23). The Agreement contains a
commencement date of February 18, 2009. (DSF ¶ 24). The
terms and construction of the Agreement are discussed at
Section III.b.2, infra.
original Lodging Fee and the original payment period for the
Lodging Fee are both unclear; Ms. Peterson redacted that
information from the only copy of the Agreement that is
before the Court. (DSF SI 31). Defendants allege that, since
2009, they have demanded in writing that the Lodging Fee be
paid every 30 days. (DSF ¶ 32). Ms. Peterson alleges
similarly, though not identically, that the Lodging Fee was
to be paid monthly. (DE 150). By 2010, Defendants had already
filed at least one lawsuit against Ms. Peterson for failing
to pay the Lodging Fee. (DSF ¶ 34).
assert that they served Notices to Cease and terminated the
Agreement, placing Ms. Peterson in holdover status. [See
Section III.b.2.b, infra.) On April 1, 2012, pursuant to the
holdover provisions of the Agreement, they began charging a
Lodging Fee of $33.00 per day, due every 30 days (33 x 30 =
$990). (DSF ¶ 35). Ms. Peterson admits that she never
paid $33.00 per day for the Lodging Fee after April 1, 2012.
(DSF ¶ 36). She asserts that the Lodging Fee should have
remained at the rate of $900 per month, not the holdover rate
of $990 per 30-day period. (DE 150).
March of 2012, Ms. Peterson had stayed at the Hotel for over
three years. (DSF ¶ 37). In March of 2012, in an effort
to start the eviction process, Defendants allege that they
sent Ms. Peterson a Notice to Cease. The Notice informed her
that she was in arrears in the amount of $174.34. (DSF ¶
40). It states that the holdover Lodging Fee of $33 per day
was thereafter to be paid every 30 days, pursuant to the
Agreement. (DSF ¶ 38).
allege that they sent Ms. Peterson follow-up Notices to Cease
on March 29, 2012, April 30, 2012, May 29, 2012, and June 27,
2012. (DSF ¶ 39). Ms. Peterson alleges that she did not
receive any of those Notices to Cease. (DE 150-5, 2,
Notice to Cease states that Ms. Peterson is behind on her
rent, states an outstanding balance,  and warns that she may be
evicted if she does not pay her rent. (DSF ¶¶ 40,
41, 42, 43). Each Notice to Cease also reiterates that,
pursuant to the notice sent to Ms. Peterson on February 7,
2012, her Lodging Fee increased to $33 per day as of April 1,
2012. (DSF ¶¶ 40, 41, 42, 43). Also, starting March
29, 2012, each Notice to Cease stated that the Lodging Fee of
$990 (i.e., $33 x 30) would be due and payable every 30 days.
(DSF ¶¶ 41, 42, 43). The Notices to Cease also
updated Ms. Peterson on the consecutive No. of months her
account was past due. (Id.).
Notice to Cease is a typical business record kept in the
ordinary course of business. It is mailed to the address
listed on the notice and is delivered directly to the guest
by sliding a copy under the door of the room listed on the
notice. (DSF ¶ 45). Ms. Peterson acknowledges that the
address on the Notices to Cease, New York P.O. Box 582, New
York, NY 10108 (the "New York P.O. Box"), was the
address for notices specified in the Agreement, and that it
remained her valid mailing address through 2012. (DSF ¶
44). The room listed on the notice, which Ms. Peterson admits
was her residence address, was Room 507 at die Hotel. That
room, at One Plaza Drive in Secaucus, New Jersey, is listed
on the Notices to Cease dated May 29, 2012 and June 27, 2012.
(DSF ¶ 46).
the alleged Notices to Cease, Ms. Peterson continued to pay
at the prior rate of $900 per month. (DSF ¶ 47). Ms.
Peterson alleges that this was "consideration in
full." (DE 150). Although die first Notice to Cease was
triggered by accrued arrearages in the original Lodging Fee,
the Defendants focus here on die post-Notice to Cease Lodging
Fees at the holdover rate. (See DSF ¶ 34-35) ("By
2010, Defendants had already filed at least one lawsuit
against Plaintiff for failing to pay the Lodging Fee as
required by the Agreement . . . Additionally, regardless of
what the Lodging Fee was in 2009, on April 1, 2012 Defendants
raised die Lodging Fee to $33 per day, due every 30 days, as
they were permitted to do pursuant to die
Agreement.")(internal citations omitted).
about June 21, 2012, Defendants initiated a landlord/tenant
action against Ms. Peterson in Hudson County (die "June
Action") for her "refusal to pay die $33 per day
Lodging Fee, her habitually late payments, and her refusal to
comply with the four Notices to Cease." (DSF ¶ 48)
(citing DE 141-13). The Defendants' statement of facts
cites the June 2012 complaint for a then-current arrearage of
$483.34. (Id.) (citing 141-13)) The June 2012
complaint itself, however, does not contain that figure, but
claims $1, 164.34 in base rent through June 30, 2012. (DE
141-13, 3)] The summons attached to the complaint includes a
notice stating as follows: "die purpose of die attached
complaint is to permanently remove you and your belongings
from die premises." (DSF SI 49). The affidavit of
service reflects that a court officer left it at her hotel
room after knocking on the door. (Id.) Ms. Peterson
claims she did not receive notice of the June Action. (DSF
August 17, 2012, however, Ms. Peterson received a letter from
the Hudson County Superior Court at her Hotel room. She
admittedly understood that the letter had legal implications.
(Id.). Instead of opening the envelope, however, she
wrote on the front of the envelope that her correct mailing
address was the New York P.O. Box (the same address to which
Defendants had sent the notices to cease). (DSF ¶ 51).
about August 7, 2012, Defendants filed a second
landlord/tenant action against Ms. Peterson (the "August
Action"). This complaint alleged that she continued to
habitually pay the Lodging Fee late and was $1, 563.34 in
arrears. (DSF ¶ 52; DE 141-17). The summons for the
August Action included a notice stating that eviction was
sought: "the purpose of the attached complaint is to
permanently remove you and your belongings from the
premises." (DSF ¶ 54; a copy of the August summons
is not provided, however.). On or about September 4, 2012,
Ms. Peterson was served with the copy of the summons and
complaint in the August Action. (DSF ¶ 53).
September 5, 2012, Ms. Peterson performed an online search of
New Jersey public records. (She admits that she did so based
on the June complaint, but she is not clear about the
circumstances under which she received the June complaint or
the August one.) That online search confirmed that
Defendants had filed landlord/tenant actions against her and
sought her removal from the Hotel. (DSF ¶ 55). The court
clerk for Hudson County Superior Court also told Ms. Peterson
that Defendants had filed two lawsuits against her because
they "want you to leave" the hotel. (DSF ¶56).
September 4, 2012 and October 3, 2012, Ms. Peterson did not
take any steps to look for alternative housing. (DSF ¶
57). Ms. Peterson states that she felt that she had met all
of her obligations to Defendants and wished to remain because
she had a good rate. (DSF ¶ 57).
October 2, 2012, the landlord-tenant court held a hearing
concerning the June and August Actions (the "October
Court Hearing"). (DSF ¶ 58). During the October
Court Hearing, Ms. Peterson declared that she did not want to
be considered a tenant and wanted to be treated as a guest of
the Hotel pursuant to the terms of the Agreement. (DSF ¶
59). In response, the landlord/tenant court vacated a default
judgment against Ms. Peterson in the June Action, finding
that because no landlord/tenant relationship existed between
the parties, there was no jurisdiction to hear the action in
landlord/tenant court. (DSF ¶ 60).
the landlord-tenant court vacated the default judgment in the
June action. Defendants voluntarily withdrew the August
landlord-tenant Action. (DSF ¶ 61). Ms. Peterson asserts
that "when HVM/ESA and its management learned, it
management and attorney was in court and heard the judgment
vacated, it had no judgment, at no time did it contact
me." [sic; DE 150 ¶ 75. See also
DE 150 ¶ 100.).
October 3, 2012, Defendants denied Ms. Peterson access to her
room and stated that she would be denied access to the Hotel.
(DSF ¶ 62). She was permitted to collect her belongings.
Ms. Peterson signed a document acknowledging that she had
collected all of her personal items from the Hotel and that
no items were missing. (DSF ¶ 65).
Ms. Peterson's relationship with Safeguard
about December 10, 2008 (i.e. before entering in the
Agreement with Defendants), Ms. Peterson entered into a
Self-Service Storage Rental Agreement (the "Storage
Agreement") with Safeguard Self-Storage
("Safeguard") located in Garfield, New Jersey. (DSF
¶ 66). Safeguard is not a party to this action or this
to the Storage Agreement, Ms. Peterson rented a storage unit
(the "Storage Unit") and was required to purchase
fire, theft, and casualty insurance on her belongings if her
property's value exceeded $1, 000. (DSF ¶ 67-68).
Ms. Peterson admits she never took out insurance on her items
in the Storage Unit. (DSF ¶ 69).
2012, Ms. Peterson stopped making payments for her Storage
Unit. (DSF ¶ 70). She admits that she understood that
her failure to make payments would result in the contents of
her Storage Units being sold at auction. (Id.).
February and June of 2013, Safeguard sent Ms. Peterson
several notices and had numerous phone calls with Ms.
Peterson regarding her overdue storage payment fees.
5, 2013, the Safeguard facility manager. Jason Villar,
inspected the contents of Ms. Peterson's Storage Unit and
prepared a corresponding property inventory (the
"Property Inventory"). (DSF ¶ 73). The
Property Inventory estimated the value of the items in her
Storage Unit to be $500. (Id). The Property
Inventory was addressed to Ms. Peterson's New York P.O.
Peterson alleges that she stored valuable items, such as a
mezzotint by G.H. Rothe (which, she says, is valued at $19,
000.00) and a Henredon section sofa with ottoman (which, she
says, are valued at $15, 000), in the unit. (DE 10-1, 76).
Mr. Villar does not recall seeing any such valuable items in
the Storage Unit. (DSF ¶ 75).
15, 2013, Safeguard warned Ms. Peterson in an e-mail that her
account was past due and had gone into default in January
2013, and that the contents of the Storage Unit would be sold
at public auction on July 23, 2013. (DSF ¶77). On that
same date, Safeguard also offered Ms. Peterson the
opportunity to reclaim all of her belongings if she paid 50%
of her outstanding balance. (DSF ¶ 78).
22, 2013, the contents of Ms. Peterson's Storage Unit
were sold at auction. (DE 79; 81). That morning. Safeguard
had given Ms. Peterson the opportunity to reclaim her
belongings even if she was unable to pay the balance owed.
(DSF 79). Ms. Peterson failed to do so. (DSF ¶80).
out only such portions of this case's convoluted
procedural history as may relate to the motions now before
January 24, 2014, Ms. Peterson, who had moved to Georgia,
filed her complaint with the United States District Court for
the Northern District of Georgia. (Cplt). The complaint names
as defendants ESA, HVM, and the Investors. (Id.).
The complaint asserts a number of claims arising out of Ms.
Peterson's alleged eviction, including breach of
contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and
fraud. (Id.). Ms. Peterson also argued that the
proceedings in state court violated her constitutional
rights. (Id.). The complaint requests damages
stemming from the eviction, litigation costs, and
compensation for pain and suffering. (Cplt, ¶¶
27-28). Ms. Peterson alleges that "[d]efendants[']
actions cause[d] [her] financial ruin," destroyed her
credit, caused her personal items to be sold at auction, and
"caused plaintiff extreme emotional pain,
devastation." (Cplt., p 3).
February 21, 2014, venue of the case was transferred to the
United States District Court for the District of New Jersey,
where it was assigned to me.
January 28, 2015, the Investors, ESA, and HVM moved to
dismiss the complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and (b)(6).
(DE 32). Ms. Peterson opposed that motion. (DE 46).
March 3, 2016, I issued an opinion (DE 51) and order (DE 52)
granting in part and denying in part the motion to dismiss.
Under Rule 12(b)(2), I dismissed the complaint in its
entirety as against the defendant Investors. (DE 51, 52). As
against defendants ESA and HVM, I partially granted the
12(b)(6) motion. (Id.) The following claims against
ESA and HVM survived the motion to dismiss: (1) breach of
contract; (2) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair
dealing, (3) malicious prosecution/abuse of process, and (4)
intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id.).
March 29, 2016, Ms. Peterson filed a letter containing
several requests, including a request to file an amended
complaint. (DE 56). On April 4, 2016, I granted Ms. Peterson
a thirty-day extension (i.e., until May 6, 2016) to
file an amended complaint. (DE 57).
April 4, 2016, Ms. Peterson filed a notice of appeal from my
opinion and order on the defendants' motion to dismiss.
(DE 60). She also filed a motion for extension of time to
file an interlocutory appeal. (DE 59). On April 11, 2016, I
issued a memorandum and order granting Ms. Peterson's
motion for an extension to the extent necessary to render her
notice of appeal timely. (DE 61).
April 29, 2016, Ms. Peterson filed an amended notice of
appeal. (DE 69). Also on April 29, 2016, ESA and HVM filed a
letter requesting an extension of time to file their answer.
(DE 67). The same day, anticipating that an amended complaint
might soon be filed, I granted ESA and HVM a fourteen-day
extension to file their answer. (DE 71).
16, 2016, Ms. Peterson moved for a stay pending appeal. (DE
72). On May 19, 2016, I denied that motion. (DE 73).
20, 2016, ESA and HVM filed their answer to the complaint.
14, 2016, Ms. Peterson moved for an extension of time to file
a response to ESA and HVM's answers. (DE 78). On June 16,
2016, I denied Ms. Peterson's motion as moot. (DE 79). On
June 23, 2016, Ms. Peterson moved for reconsideration of that
order. (DE 81). On June 27, 2016, I denied Ms. Peterson's
motion for reconsideration. (DE 83). On July 5, 2016, Ms.
Peterson filed a notice of appeal from my original order (DE
79) on Ms. Peterson's motion for an extension. (DE 85).
August 8, 2016, Ms. Peterson filed a motion to stay. (DE 88).
On August 9, 2016, by letter order, I granted Ms.
Peterson's motion to stay during the pendency of her
appeal. (DE 89). On August 11, 2016, the Third Circuit
dismissed both of Ms. Peterson's appeals for lack of
jurisdiction, as there had been no final decision in the
case. (DE 90, 91).
series of motions regarding discovery and settlement ensued.
I do not summarize them here. Fact discovery was completed.
April 6, 2018, ESA and HVM moved for summary judgment. (DE
141). On April 19, 2018, Ms. Peterson moved for an extension
of time to file a response to defendants' motion for
summary judgment. (DE 142). On April 26, 2018, Magistrate
Judge Clark granted her 30 days from the date of the order to
file her opposition. (DE 143). On May 15, 2018, Ms. Peterson
filed a Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 objection to Judge Clark's order.
(DE 144). On July 18, 2018, I denied Ms. Peterson's Rule
72 motion. (DE 145, 146). On August 13, 2018, in response to
my decision, Ms. Peterson moved for reconsideration (DE 147),
which I denied (DE 148).
September 18, 2018, I still had received no response to
Defendants' motion for summary judgment. I issued a
memorandum and procedural order requiring that any response
be filed by Ms. Peterson on or before October 23, 2018, and
that if no response was received, the Defendants' motion
might be treated as unopposed and granted. (DE 149). On
October 23, 2018, Ms. Peterson filed an opposition to
Defendants' summary judgment motion, as well as another
motion to stay. (DE 150, DE 150-6).
Ms. Peterson's Motion for a Stay
addressing Defendants' summary judgment motion, I will
briefly address Ms. ...