Articles Posted in Contracts

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In 1983, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed a final consent judgment for a settlement agreement between the New Jersey State Bar Association and the New Jersey Association of Realtor Boards. The terms of the settlement provided that real estate brokers and salespersons may prepare contracts to sell or lease real property, so long as a standard form is used that includes a three-day period for attorney review. Plaintiffs Michael Conley, Jr., and Katie M. Maurer (Buyers) made an offer to purchase a condominium from defendant Mona Guerrero (Seller), and, a few days later, Seller signed and executed the contract. Before the three-day attorney-review period expired, Seller s attorney sent Buyers attorney and their realtor notice of disapproval by e-mail and fax, rather than by the methods approved under the 1983 holding and prescribed in the parties' contract (certified mail, telegram, or personal service). Buyers sued for specific performance, claiming the contract was enforceable because Seller s notification of disapproval was sent improperly. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the attorney-review provision of a standard form real estate contract had to be strictly enforced, thereby nullifying Seller's notice of disapproval and requiring enforcement of the real estate contract. The Court concluded that, because Buyers received actual notice of disapproval within the three-day attorney-review period by a method of communication commonly used in the industry, the notice of disapproval was valid. The Court also exercised its constitutional authority over the practice of law and found that an attorney's notice of disapproval of a real estate contract could be transmitted by fax, e-mail, personal delivery, or overnight mail with proof of delivery. Notice by overnight mail will be effective upon mailing. The attorney-review period within which this notice must be sent remained three business days. View "Conley v. Guerrero" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Givaudan Fragrances Corporation (Fragrances) faced liability as a result of environmental contamination from a manufacturing site that a related corporate entity operated in a facility in Clifton. The issue this case presented for review involved Fragrances' effort to obtain insurance coverage for environmental claims brought by governmental entities in response to discharges of hazardous substances that occurred during the pertinent policy periods running through January 1, 1986. Fragrances claimed that the defendant insurance companies (defendants) wrote liability policies for Givaudan Corporation during those relevant years. Fragrances argued that it was entitled, either as an affiliate of Givaudan Corporation or by operation of an assignment of rights, to have the insurers provide it with coverage for that environmental liability. Defendants claimed that they insured Givaudan Corporation as their named insured, not Fragrances, and that any assignment to Fragrances was invalid because defendants did not consent to the assignment, as was required for a valid assignment according to the language of the insurance policies. Therefore, collectively, defendants refused to honor Fragrances' right to bring insurance contract claims against them. Fragrances filed its complaint in February 2009 seeking a declaratory judgment that it was entitled to coverage under the policies. In February 2010, while the declaratory judgment action was pending, Fragrances notified defendants that Givaudan Roure Flavors Corporation (corporate successor-in-interest to Givaudan Corporation) planned to assign its post-loss rights under the insurance policies to Fragrances. Defendants refused to consent to the assignment. Nevertheless, Flavors executed the assignment to Fragrances. Both sides moved for summary judgment. Because Fragrances was not acquired by Givaudan Corporation during the policy period, the trial court determined that it could not be an affiliated corporation covered under the policies. The court also determined that the assignment in this case was an assignment of policies, which could not be assigned. The court denied Fragrances' motion and granted defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded, explaining that although the anti-assignment clauses in the occurrence policies at issue would prevent an insured from transferring a policy without the consent of the insurer, once a loss occurs, an insured s claim under a policy may be assigned without the insurer s consent.The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that, once an insured loss has occurred, an anti-assignment clause in an occurrence policy may not provide a basis for an insurer s declination of coverage based on the insured's assignment of the right to invoke policy coverage for that loss. The assignment at issue in this case was a post-loss claim assignment and therefore the rule voiding application of anti-assignment clauses to such assignments applied. View "Givaudan Fragrances Corp. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co." on Justia Law

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This dispute arose from the construction of Cypress Point, a luxury condominium complex in Hoboken. Co-defendants Adria Towers, LLC, Metro Homes, LLC, and Commerce Construction Management, LLC (collectively, the developer) served as the project's developer and general contractor, and subcontractors carried out most of the work. During construction, the developer obtained four CGL policies from Evanston Insurance Company, covering a four-year period, and three from Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company, covering a subsequent three-year period (collectively, the policies). In this appeal, issue before the Supreme Court was whether rain water damage caused by a subcontractor's faulty workmanship constituted property damage and an occurrence under the developer's commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policy. In a published decision, the Appellate Division reversed, holding that, under the plain language of the CGL policies, the unintended and unexpected consequential damages caused by the subcontractors faulty workmanship constituted property damage and an occurrence. The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed, finding that the consequential damages caused by the subcontractors faulty workmanship constituted property damage, and the event resulting in that damage water from rain flowing into the interior of the property due to the subcontractors faulty workmanship was an occurrence under the plain language of the CGL policies at issue here. View "CypressPoint Condominium Association, Inc. v. Adria Towers, L.L.C., et al." on Justia Law

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In 1995, Jazz Photo Corp., one of several commercial entities (collectively referred to as the Jazz Entities), entered into a factoring agreement with Rosenthal & Rosenthal, Inc. Jazz Photo sold Rosenthal its accounts receivable in return for cash. Five years later, Vanessa Benun, the daughter of Jack Benun, a principal of the Jazz Entities, guaranteed Jazz Photo's obligations under that agreement. At that time, Benun also executed a mortgage on real property she owned in Monmouth County as security for her personal guaranty. In March 2005, another of the Jazz Entities, Ribi Tech Products, LLC entered into a factoring agreement with Rosenthal. Benun personally guaranteed Ribi Tech's obligations to Rosenthal. In March 2007, Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti, L.L.P. (Riker), a law firm providing legal services to Jack Benun and the Jazz Entities, obtained a third mortgage from Benun on the same real property. This mortgage was executed in favor of Riker to secure Jack Benun's personal debt under a letter agreement. When Benun executed the mortgage, Jack Benun owed Riker $1,679,701.33 in unpaid legal fees, and the letter agreement reflected his obligations to Riker and Riker's promise to provide continuing legal representation. Riker's mortgage was recorded on April 13, 2007. Rosenthal received actual notice of the Riker mortgage in August 2007. Despite notice of the Riker mortgage, Rosenthal continued to make advances to the Jazz Entities that totaled millions of dollars. In September 2009, Jazz Products filed for bankruptcy. The Jazz Entities defaulted on their obligations to Rosenthal, owing Rosenthal close to $4 million. Benun, in turn, defaulted on her personal guaranty to secure the debt. After Riker recorded its mortgage on the Monmouth County property, it continued to perform legal services for Jack Benun, and his unpaid legal fees ballooned to over $3 million. Jack Benun, and the Jazz Entities defaulted on their obligation to Riker and Benun defaulted on her guaranty. Rosenthal filed a foreclosure complaint against Benun, her husband, and Riker. Benun and her husband did not respond, and Rosenthal requested that a default judgment be entered against them. Riker answered, disputing the priority of Rosenthal's mortgages. Later, both Rosenthal and Riker filed cross-motions for summary judgment regarding the priority of their respective mortgages. The trial court granted Rosenthal's motion, determining that the dragnet clauses in the Rosenthal mortgages were fully enforceable. With regard to priority, the trial court held that Riker's argument that its mortgage displaced the two Rosenthal mortgages was legally flawed because the firm accepted a mortgage on the property with knowledge of two prior mortgages, each securing an obligation of up to $1 million, and with knowledge of the anti-subordination clauses. The court concluded that there was no convincing justification for rewarding Riker a superior priority. Riker appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division, finding that Rosenthal had advance notice of the law firm's intervening lien but nonetheless proceeded to make optional advances to the commercial entities. "Having done so, its mortgages securing those optional future advances were subordinated to the law firm's intervening lien." View "Rosenthal & Rosenthal, Inc. v. Benun" on Justia Law

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In May 2013, plaintiffs Annemarie Morgan and Tiffany Dever filed suit against defendants Sanford Brown Institute, its parent company, Career Education Corporation, and Sanford Brown's chief executive officer, admission and financial aid officers, and clinical director. Sanford Brown was a private, for-profit educational institution with a campus in Trevose, Pennsylvania, that offered medical-related training programs. In the complaint, plaintiffs claimed that defendants misrepresented the value of the school's ultrasound technician program and the quality of its instructors, instructed students on outdated equipment and with inadequate teaching materials, provided insufficient career-service counseling, and conveyed inaccurate information about Sanford Brown's accreditation status. The complaint further alleged that Sanford Brown employed high-pressure and deceptive business tactics that resulted in plaintiffs financing their education with high-interest loans, passing up the study of ultrasound at a reputable college, and losing career advancement opportunities. The Sanford Brown enrollment agreement included payment terms for tuition and fees, disclaimers, and an arbitration provision. Without answering the complaint, defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration and to dismiss plaintiffs' claims. The Appellate Division found the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed an arbitrator would determine issues of arbitrability and that plaintiffs failed to specifically attack the delegation clause. The panel therefore determined that arbitrability [was] for the arbitrator to decide. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Appellate Division and trial court did not have the benefit of "Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Grp.," (219 N.J. 430, 436 (2014), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2804, 192 L. Ed.2d 847 (2015)) at the time they rendered their decisions. The New Jersey Court held in "Atalese" that an arbitration provision in a consumer contract that fails to explain in some minimal way that arbitration is a substitute for a consumer s right to pursue relief in a court of law was unenforceable. This case was therefore remanded for further proceedings in light of Atalese. View "Morgan v. Sanford Brown Institute" on Justia Law

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The insured, who had been sued for damages by plaintiffs, entered into a settlement whereby it agreed to assign its rights and interests under the insurance policy to plaintiffs. However, when plaintiffs sought to recover under the policy, the insurer denied coverage because the insured breached the policy's notice conditions. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurance company, finding that notice was not given as soon as practicable, and that the insurance company need not show appreciable prejudice as a result of the delay in notice in order to refuse coverage. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed substantially for the reasons given by the trial court. After its review, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that because this Directors and Officers claims made policy was not a contract of adhesion but was agreed to by sophisticated parties, the insurance company was not required to show that it suffered prejudice before disclaiming coverage on the basis of the insured's failure to give timely notice of the claim. View "Templo Fuente De Vida Corp., et al. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Shortly after plaintiff John Ross signed a contract to sell his home, he learned of contamination on his property as a result of a leak that previously existed in an underground oil storage tank located on a neighboring property. The prospective purchaser then cancelled the contract, and plaintiffs commenced suit against the current and former owners of the neighboring property, and their respective insurers. After the insurers remediated the contamination on the property, the lawsuit proceeded on the claims for damages against all defendants on theories of negligence, strict liability, private nuisance and trespass, as well as violations of the Spill Compensation and Control Act. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether plaintiffs' claims were properly dismissed, and whether plaintiffs could maintain claims as third-party beneficiaries against the insurers which provided coverage to the former owner of the neighboring property where the underground storage tank was located. The Court found no basis for the claims of private nuisance or trespass against the homeowner defendants because there was no proof of negligence, recklessness, intentional conduct, or the conduct of an abnormally dangerous activity, by these parties. Additionally, the Court declined to expand these causes of action to impose strict liability upon defendants. Plaintiffs could not proceed with a direct claim against the defendant insurers for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing contained in the insurance contracts because they did not hold an assignment of rights from the named insured, and there was no evidence that the named insured or her insurers agreed to recognize plaintiffs as third-party beneficiaries of the insurance contracts. View "Ross v. Lowitz" on Justia Law

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In February 1995, the State executed a contract with Perini Corporation to design and build South Woods in Bridgeton (the Project), a twenty-six building medium- and minimum-security correctional facility. Perini subcontracted with L. Robert Kimball & Associates, Inc. as the architect and engineer. Defendant Natkin & Company was designated the principal contractor for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). The design that Kimball provided to Perini included an underground HTHW distribution system to serve the entire Project. It also included a central plant from which the hot water was distributed to the various buildings that comprised the Project. Perma-Pipe, Inc. manufactured the underground piping used in the HTHW system. Natkin furnished and installed the underground piping system and the boilers and heat exchangers housed in the central plant. Defendant Jacobs Facilities, Inc. (formerly known as CRSS Constructors, Inc.), was retained by the State to provide construction oversight services. In 2008, the State filed a complaint against Perini, Kimball, Natkin, Jacobs, and Perma-Pipe in which it alleged that the HTHW system failed in March 2000, and on several subsequent occasions, and that these failures were caused by various defects including design defects, defective site preparation for the pipes, defective pipes, and deficient system design. The State asserted breach of contract against Perini, negligence and professional malpractice against Kimball, negligence and breach of contract against Natkin, and breach of contract against Jacobs. Against Perma-Pipe, the State asserted a claim under the New Jersey Products Liability Act (PLA), as well as breach of implied warranties, negligence, and strict liability in tort. All defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Project was substantially complete well before April 28, 1998, and that, therefore, the statute of repose barred the State's complaint. The Appellate Division reversed the orders granting summary judgment in favor of defendants Perini, Kimball, Natkin, and Jacobs. The panel held that the statute of repose was triggered when defendants substantially completed their work on the entire project, no earlier than May 1, 1998, the date when the minimum-security unit and garage were certified as substantially complete. After its review, the Supreme Court held that the statute of repose does not begin to run on claims involving an improvement that serves an entire project (including those parts constructed in multiple, uninterrupted phases) until all buildings served by the improvement have been connected to it. In addition, the Court held that the statute of repose did not apply to claims relating solely to manufacturing defects in a product used in the HTHW system. View "New Jersey v. Perini Corporation" on Justia Law

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In this case, Beverly Maeker and William Ross, although unmarried to each other, lived together and shared a marital-like relationship from 1999 to 2011. In the course of that relationship, Maeker alleged she gave up a career and devoted herself to Ross, who promised to support her in the future. In short, Maeker claimed that the two entered into a palimony agreement. In 2011, their relationship dissolved, and Maeker filed an action to enforce Ross's promise to provide financial support. Ross argued that the alleged agreement was not reduced to writing and could not be enforced under the 2010 Amendment to the Statute of Frauds. The trial court rejected Ross's argument, concluding that the Legislature intended the 2010 Amendment to be prospectively applied. The Appellate Division reversed and dismissed Maeker's complaint, holding that the Legislature intended that any palimony agreement as of 2010 had to be in writing and that oral agreements predating the Amendment were no longer enforceable. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Appellate Division, finding that the Legislature did not intend the 2010 Amendment to apply retroactively to oral agreements that predated the Amendment. "In amending the Statute of Frauds, the Legislature was aware that historically the Statute has been construed -- absent a legislative expression to the contrary -- not to reach back to rescind preexisting, lawfully enforceable oral agreements. The Legislature has given no indication that it intended to depart from the traditional prospective application of a change to the Statute." Accordingly, the Appellate Division was reversed and Maeker’s complaint reinstated. View "Maeker v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review centered on an agreement for the sale of a residential property and a subsequent lease and repurchase agreement, specifically whether the transactions collectively gave rise to an equitable mortgage, violated consumer protection statutes, or contravened its decision in "In re Opinion No. 26 of the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law," (139 N.J. 323 (1995)). In 2007, defendant Barbara Felton faced foreclosure proceedings with respect to her unfinished, uninhabitable home and the land on which it was situated. Felton and plaintiff Tahir Zaman, a licensed real estate agent, entered into a written contract for the sale of the property. A week later, at a closing in which neither party was represented by counsel, Felton and Zaman entered into two separate agreements: a lease agreement under which Felton became the lessee of the property, and an agreement that gave her the option to repurchase the property from Zaman at a substantially higher price than the price for which she sold it. For more than a year, Felton remained on the property, paying no rent. She did not exercise her right to repurchase. Zaman filed suit, claiming that he was the purchaser in an enforceable land sale agreement, and that he therefore was entitled to exclusive possession of the property and to damages. Felton asserted numerous counterclaims, alleging fraud, slander of title, violations of the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), and violations of other federal and state consumer protection statutes. She claimed that the parties’ transactions collectively comprised an equitable mortgage and constituted a foreclosure scam, entitling her to relief under several theories. She further contended that the transactions were voidable by virtue of an alleged violation of "In re Opinion No. 26." A jury rendered a verdict in Zaman’s favor with respect to the question of whether Felton knowingly sold her property to him. The trial court subsequently conducted a bench trial and rejected Felton’s remaining claims, including her contention that the transactions gave rise to an equitable mortgage and her allegation premised upon In re Opinion No. 26. An Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the Appellate Division’s determination. The Court affirmed the jury’s determination that Felton knowingly sold her property to Zaman. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the trial court and Appellate Division's decisions that Felton had no claim under the CFA, that this case did not implicate "In re Opinion No. 26," and that Felton’s remaining claims were properly dismissed. The Court reversed, however, the portion of the Appellate Division’s opinion that affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Felton’s claim that the parties’ agreements constituted a single transaction that gave rise to an equitable mortgage, adopting an eight-factor standard for the determination of an equitable mortgage set forth by the United States Bankruptcy Court in "O’Brien v. Cleveland," (423 B.R. 477 (Bankr. D.N.J. 2010)). The case was remanded to the trial court for application of that standard to this case, and, in the event that the trial court concludes that an equitable mortgage was created by the parties, for the adjudication of two of Felton’s statutory claims based on alleged violations of consumer lending laws, as well as several other claims not adjudicated by the trial court. View "Zaman v. Felton" on Justia Law