Quarterly Litigation Department Roundup: April 2021

Posted on April 6th, 2021

As the world continues to face the coronavirus pandemic, and millions of small businesses remain confronted with unprecedented challenges, the attorneys in Ansell Grimm & Aaron’s Litigation Department assisted dozens of clients in protecting their businesses and livelihoods.  Led by co-chairs Lawrence Shapiro and Joshua Bauchner, and assisted by attorneys Barry Capp, Anthony D’Artiglio, Rahool Patel, Seth Rosenstein, Ashley Whitney, and, our newest member, Courtney Dunn, the Department is pleased to share its numerous successes.

Real Estate Litigation

In a recent matter before the Honorable Henry P. Butehorn in Monmouth County, Lawrence Shapiro and Seth Rosenstein were successful in securing summary judgment in favor of their clients as to all claims prior to trial.  Plaintiffs asserted causes of action sounding in common law fraud, violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, Unjust Enrichment, Negligence, Breach of Contract, and Equitable Servitude in connection with their purchase of real property in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  The sellers, who own the property sold to Plaintiffs as well as an adjoining property, prohibited the buyers from utilizing a walkway on sellers’ adjoining property to access the rear entrance to buyers’ home.  The buyers asserted that representations were made by sellers as to their ability to utilize sellers’ walkway, and that they overpaid for their property if there was no access through the rear entrance.

Judge Butehorn’s Order found that there was no basis upon which to establish claims for common law fraud or Consumer Fraud against the defendants.  Specifically, the Court agreed with AGA’s argument that any representation as to walkway access on adjacent property was not part of the transaction at issue and thus could not serve as a basis for a claim of fraud or consumer fraud.

Plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court’s summary judgment order, which was denied, confirming the victory for our client.

Appellate Litigation

Barry Capp succeeded before the Appellate Division in upholding the validity of the City of Asbury Park’s short-term rental (Air BnB) ordinance, which permitted and established procedures for the short-term rental of residential properties. The plaintiff filed a complaint in the Law Division, Monmouth County, alleging that the ordinance was adopted improperly and that Ordinance itself was facially invalid.

The Ordinance defines those classifications of properties where short-term rentals are both permitted and prohibited. It further establishes a permitting process for property owners who wish to utilize their properties as short-term rentals. Plaintiff asserted a challenge to the manner in which the Ordinance was adopted, claiming that it creates a “new” use of residential property that is a non-permitted and, therefore, was required to be adopted as a zoning ordinance pursuant to the procedures contained in the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). Plaintiff further claimed that the use of residential property for short-term rentals violates the City of Asbury Park’s zoning ordinance and therefore was required to be invalidated.

In a thirteen (13) page unanimous decision, and a major victory for the City of Asbury Park, the Appellate Division upheld the City’s actions in adopting the Ordinance and its validity pursuant to its municipal police powers. In so doing, the Appellate Division affirmed the right of owners of certain classifications of property to use their properties as short-term rentals pursuant to procedures established by the City of Asbury Park and its governing body.

Bankruptcy Litigation

Joshua Bauchner and Anthony D’Artiglio are pursuing a multi-million dollar cure dispute in Southern District of New York Bankruptcy Court, seeking to compel a retail Debtor who operated a chain of grocery stores to pay for numerous, needed repairs to a large production and distribution facility.  The Debtor failed to maintain the property in the condition required by the Lease, leading to large scale deterioration.  The case presents interesting legal questions at the intersection of commercial landlord-tenant law and Bankruptcy law, particularly in light of the new tenant’s assumption of the Lease “as is” as part of the Bankruptcy proceedings.

Class Action Litigation

Joshua Bauchner and Rahool Patel continue the defense of multiple class actions filed against New Jersey Retrofitness gym franchises.  This now seven-year old litigation is on remand from the Appellate Division, where the firm successfully secured the dismissal of seven of the eight claims, dramatically narrowing the scope of the litigation.  As a result of numerous procedural challenges encountered by plaintiffs, the matter is back at the pleading stage ensuring our already strapped gym clients are not at risk of liability anytime soon.

COVID-19 Litigation

Department attorneys continue to represent national retail and restaurant tenants in numerous COVID-19 Pandemic-related litigations, securing temporary restraints and preliminary injunctive relief to prevent self-help lockouts, restore utilities, permit outdoor dining, and stay eviction actions.  As pandemic law remains largely unsettled, the Firm presented novel legal arguments to secure favorable decisions and settlements on behalf of many clients, and are preparing for what is understood to be the first trial in the State addressing the impact of Governor Murphy’s Executive Orders restricting operations.

Policeman Benevolent Association Litigation

Ashley Whitney is waiting on a decision from the Appellate Division involving the termination of a police officer with no prior discipline for alleged Criminal Justice Information Systems violations under State v. Donis, through his use of full-disclosure searches despite the police department’s failure to identify a single full-disclosure search conducted without justification.  The Appellate Division’s decision could have lasting implications for police officers as there is little case law addressing the application of Donis in this context.

Ms. Whitney also is continuing her prior practice of the representation of police officers as a member of the PBA Legal Protection Plan at the Firm’s Woodland Park office and is currently defending a high-ranking correctional police officer served with inflated disciplinary charges.

Personnel Successes

Courtney Dunn joined as an associate with the Firm. Prior to joining Ansell Grimm & Aaron, Ms. Dunn practiced commercial litigation along with sports and entertainment law, labor and employment law, and toxic tort law at a firm in New York City. Ms. Dunn received her juris doctor, cum laude, from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University where she was a Pro Bono Scholar and worked as a research assistant to Professor Donald L. Doernberg. During law school, Ms. Dunn interned for Justice Terry J. Ruderman, J.S.C. of the Supreme Court of New York.  She also served as an Articles Editor on the Pace International Law Review and was a member of the Moot Court Honors Board.

Following law school, Ms. Dunn served as a law clerk to The Honorable Judge Craig L. Wellerson, the Presiding Civil Division Judge of the Ocean Vicinage of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Ms. Dunn is admitted to practice in New Jersey and New York as well as the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of New York

Anthony D’Artiglio was named as “One To Watch” by Best Lawyers Magazine, for commercial litigation.  We congratulate Mr. D’Artiglio on this remarkable achievement.