Two Appellate Division Wins for LDG

My firm, Lite DePalma Greenberg, LLC, was successful in two Appellate Division cases within the last few days.  Last week, in Villaquiran v. All-State International, Inc.,  2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1633 (App.  Div. July 8, 2014), one of my cases, the Appellate Division reversed a ruling of the Law Division that an employee (LDG’s client on appeal, but represented by different counsel below) who had sued his former employer, All-State, for employment discrimination, had agreed to settle his case.  All-State had contended that plaintiff agreed to a settlement, but plaintiff’s sworn evidence was that he had not agreed to the settlement terms.  

Despite that conflicting evidence, the Law Division found that the parties had agreed to a settlement.  In a per curiam opinion, Judges Sapp-Peterson and Maven reversed the Law Division and remanded for a plenary hearing, given the “genuine disputes as to what constituted the material terms of the [settlement a]greement and, also, as to whether the parties mutually agreed to those terms.”  It was improper for the Law Division to have resolved the factual disputes without a hearing.

Today, in an appeal argued by my colleague Jeffrey A. Shooman, who worked with my partner Victor A. Afanador on this matter, LDG won an affirmance of a decision of the Law Division.  De Sena v. Hoboken Rent Leveling & Stabilization Bd., 2014 N.J. Super. LEXIS 1769 (App. Div. July 18, 2014) (Judges Fuentes, Simonelli, and Fasciale).  In that case, a tenant appealed to the Rent Board a decision of Hoboken’s Rent Regulation Officer that approved a landlord’s application to “raise plaintiff’s rent commensurate with increases in municipal property taxes over a specified period of years.”  Such an increase was expressly permitted under Hoboken’s rent leveling ordinance as a tax surcharge. 

Plaintiff complained because, since the landlord had not applied for a tax surcharge increase for many years, the application at issue passed along 24 years’ worth of tax increases to a tenant who had occupied her apartment for only two years.  On appeal from the Rent Regulation Officer, the Rent Board ended up with tie votes on resolutions both to approve and to table the Officer’s ruling.  Based on advice from its counsel, the Rent Board concluded that the tie votes were not sufficient to overturn the “presumptively valid” decision of the Officer.

Plaintiff filed an action in lieu of prerogative writ with the Law Division, which affirmed, applying the arbitrary and capricious standard of review.  Hoboken’s ordinance explicitly required that a party who seeks to reverse a decision of the Rent Regulation Officer has the burden to “demonstrate that the Officer’s determination was in error or arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”  Since plaintiff had achieved only tie votes by the Rent Board on the motions to approve or table, she had not carried her burden.  The Appellate Division affirmed the Law Division’s ruling substantially for the reasons that the Law Division judge gave.