Estate of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, DOCKET NO. A-2989-18T1

CourtNew Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division
Writing for the CourtSABATINO, P.J.A.D.
Citation464 N.J.Super. 153,234 A.3d 348
Parties The ESTATE OF Frank A. CAMPAGNA and the Heirs of the Estate of Frank A. Campagna By Christine Campagna, as Administratrix Ad Prosequendum of the Estate of Frank A. Campagna, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. PLEASANT POINT PROPERTIES, LLC, and Patricia Dalton a/k/a Patricia Dalton Goldsmith a/k/a Patricia Goldsmith, Defendants-Respondents, and Pleasant Point Properties, LLC, Defendant-Respondent/ Third-Party Plaintiff, v. Brouwer Hansen & Isdebski Associates, and Anthony Strong, Third-Party Defendants.
Decision Date17 June 2020
Docket NumberDOCKET NO. A-2989-18T1

464 N.J.Super. 153
234 A.3d 348

The ESTATE OF Frank A. CAMPAGNA and the Heirs of the Estate of Frank A. Campagna By Christine Campagna, as Administratrix Ad Prosequendum of the Estate of Frank A. Campagna, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
PLEASANT POINT PROPERTIES, LLC, and Patricia Dalton a/k/a Patricia Dalton Goldsmith a/k/a Patricia Goldsmith, Defendants-Respondents,
and
Pleasant Point Properties, LLC, Defendant-Respondent/ Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
Brouwer Hansen & Isdebski Associates, and Anthony Strong, Third-Party Defendants.

DOCKET NO. A-2989-18T1

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

Argued telephonically April 20, 2020
Decided June 17, 2020


James A. Maggs argued the cause for appellants (Maggs & McDermott, LLC, attorneys; James A. Maggs, of counsel; Victoria J. Adornetto, on the briefs).

Ryan Milun argued the cause for respondents (The Killian Firm, PC, attorneys; Ryan Milun, Iselin, of counsel and on the briefs).

Before Judges Sabatino, Geiger and Natali.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

SABATINO, P.J.A.D.

464 N.J.Super. 160

This wrongful death and survival case arises out of the fatal stabbing of a rooming house resident by another resident. The assailant had recently been released from prison after serving a sentence for a violent crime, although the rooming house owner and operator were not aware of that criminal history.

The core question in this case is whether, under New Jersey statutory or common law, a rooming house operator has a legal duty to conduct a criminal background check of prospective residents to promote the safety of other rooming house residents. The trial court found no such duty exists or should be adopted, and therefore granted summary judgment to defendants.

We affirm. The trial court appropriately rejected plaintiffs' claim of duty. No such duty is set forth in or implied by our State's rooming house statutes and regulations, and no other state court has adopted one. As we will discuss, the alleged duty could have problematic and substantial public policy ramifications.

I.

We summarize the facts from the motion record, viewing them as we must in a light most favorable to plaintiffs. R. 4:46-2; Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540, 666 A.2d 146 (1995).

Background Concerning the Rooming House

The murder victim, Frank A. Campagna, was a resident of a rooming house in Point Pleasant Beach. The facility is a "Class A" licensed rooming house, consisting of two stories with twelve rooms and three apartments. The first floor of the dwelling has two rooms. The second floor has resident rooms, a kitchen, a laundry, and a shared single-occupancy bathroom. There is no designated common area within the building where residents congregate.

234 A.3d 353
464 N.J.Super. 161

The owner of the rooming house is defendant Pleasant Point Properties, LLC ("the LLC"). Co-defendant Patricia Dalton is the sole member of the LLC.

As the LLC's principal, Dalton is responsible for various administrative functions. Those functions include the payment of taxes, insurance premiums, utility bills, and the mortgage; ensuring that the building is compliant with state statutes and regulations; and arranging for necessary repairs.

The rooming house is licensed by the State pursuant to the Rooming and Boarding House Act of 1979 ("the RBHA"), N.J.S.A. 55:13B-1 to -21.1 The RBHA requires that every rooming house have a licensed operator, a person who resides there and who is responsible for "daily operation" of the rooming house. N.J.S.A. 55:13B-3, -8. If the operator either resigns or is otherwise unavailable to perform the duties associated with the position, "then the primary owner shall be deemed to be the operator of the facility until such time as the commissioner is notified of the appointment of a new operator, and shall have the same responsibilities ...." N.J.S.A. 55:13B-8.

According to Dalton, the operator (sometimes referred to as a "manager" by the parties) is responsible for on-site tasks such as collecting rent, showing vacant rooms to prospective residents, cleaning certain areas and sidewalks, ensuring the heat and mechanical systems are working, and acting as a liaison between the residents and the owner.

The Managerial Transition from Mahaffy to McMaster

Kenneth Mahaffy was the licensed operator at the rooming house beginning sometime in 2011 through August 2015. There is

464 N.J.Super. 162

conflicting testimony in the record about when Mahaffy's successor, Daniel McMaster, took over as operator.

Dalton testified that McMaster began serving as the acting operator in September 2015, though he was not licensed by the DCA until November 2015. McMaster had lived at the rooming house for approximately six months and was already familiar with day-to-day operations. Before Mahaffy left, Dalton met with him and McMaster to go over McMaster's responsibilities and told McMaster that she was available by phone if he had questions.

Dalton notified the residents at the end of August 2015 that McMaster would be assuming the responsibilities of operator and asked them to pay him their rent due on September 1, 2015. She recalled that she started paying McMaster in September or October 2015. However, she claimed that she waited until November 2015 to obtain a new operator license for the rooming house because McMaster was working "on a trial basis," and Mahaffy's license was valid until March 2016.

McMaster initially testified that he was serving as "acting manager" in October 2015, but then changed his testimony and said that he "took over" in November 2015. Contrary to Dalton's testimony, McMaster denied being the operator at the time of the murder in October 2015. He said that he moved into the designated apartment for the operator at the end of October 2015. He denied receiving any training prior to becoming the operator but said that Mahaffy had shown him where the boiler, main power supply, and keys were located. He said that the first time he received any

234 A.3d 354

compensation from the LLC, in the form of a reduction in rent, was in November 2015, after the murder.

Anthony Strong's Rental Application

The resident who killed Campagna was Anthony Strong. Strong had been living at the rooming house for several weeks leading up to the murder.

The record contains an undated copy of Strong's rental application. The application listed his name, address, social security

464 N.J.Super. 163

number, phone number, and contact information for his housing worker and social worker. The application stated that Strong had no prior rental history and the employment history section was incomplete. The following words were handwritten by an unidentified person over the employment history section: "On general assistance—guaranteed rental payments."

Dalton testified that Strong's application was submitted in either July or August 2015. She recalled that Karen Tubertini, another resident, had referred Strong to her, and that Strong was Tubertini's daughter's boyfriend.

Strong had frequently visited Tubertini at the rooming house for approximately six months before he became a resident. Tubertini told Dalton that Strong did "odd jobs" and "would be covered for rent" through a subsidy from the Ocean County Board of Social Services ("OCBSS").

Dalton called OCBSS at the end of August 2015 to verify Strong's eligibility for a rent subsidy but was told that his matter was still being processed. Even though she had not obtained confirmation that she would receive rental payments from OCBSS, Dalton gave Strong a key to a room and allowed him to move into the rooming house during the first week of September 2015. Dalton expected to receive back payments from OCBSS once Strong was approved for the rent subsidy, as the process could sometimes take two or three months. Ultimately, she never received any rental payments from OCBSS.

Dalton admitted that she never met or interviewed Strong before he moved into the rooming house. She did not inquire about his rental history, employment history, medical history, or background. Dalton insisted that neither she nor the operator was required to conduct criminal background checks of prospective residents, and that it was not her practice to do so in 2015. According to Dalton, she "never had an incident" at the rooming house in fifteen years and it had not occurred to her that background checks were necessary. Dalton stated that, as of the

464 N.J.Super. 164

summer of 2015, she did not know whether any of her residents had criminal histories or psychiatric issues.

Dalton and McMaster agree that McMaster was not involved with Strong's rental application. McMaster said that Dalton told him that Strong had a key so he could "put some of his belongings" in the room while his rental application was pending. According to McMaster, he was unaware...

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6 practice notes
  • Diaz v. Reynoso, DOCKET NO. A-1285-20
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • June 1, 2021
    ...intelligible and sensible rules to govern future conduct." 468 N.J.Super. 89 Estate of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, 464 N.J. Super. 153, 178, 234 A.3d 348 (App. Div. 2020) (quoting Hopkins, 132 N.J. at 439, 625 A.2d 1110 ), certif. denied, 245 N.J. 585, 247 A.3d 399 (2021).B.The ......
  • E.S. v. Brunswick Inv. Ltd. P'ship, A-3372-18
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • August 27, 2021
    ...care, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) actual and proximate causation, and (4) damages." Est. of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, 464 N.J.Super. 153, 171 (App. Div. 2020) (alteration in original) (quoting Jersey Cent. Power &Light Co. v. Melcar Util. Co., 212 N.J. 576, 594 (2013)). Def......
  • Buddy v. Knapp, A-4339-18
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • August 17, 2021
    ..."'[a]n expert's opinion on a question of law is neither appropriate nor probative.'" Est. of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, 464 N.J.Super. 153, 171 (App. Div. 2020) (quoting Kamienski v. State, 451 N.J.Super. 499, 518 (App. Div. 2017)), certif. denied, 245 N.J. 585 (2021). The "act......
  • Diaz v. Reynoso, DOCKET NO. A-1285-20
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • June 1, 2021
    ...case and generate intelligible and sensible rules to govern future conduct." Estate of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, 464 N.J. Super. 153, 178 (App. Div. 2020) (quoting Hopkins, 132 N.J. at 439), certif. denied, 245 N.J. 585 (2021).B. The issues of duty here are influenced by both ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Diaz v. Reynoso, DOCKET NO. A-1285-20
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • June 1, 2021
    ...intelligible and sensible rules to govern future conduct." 468 N.J.Super. 89 Estate of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, 464 N.J. Super. 153, 178, 234 A.3d 348 (App. Div. 2020) (quoting Hopkins, 132 N.J. at 439, 625 A.2d 1110 ), certif. denied, 245 N.J. 585, 247 A.3d 399 (2021).B.The ......
  • E.S. v. Brunswick Inv. Ltd. P'ship, A-3372-18
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • August 27, 2021
    ...care, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) actual and proximate causation, and (4) damages." Est. of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, 464 N.J.Super. 153, 171 (App. Div. 2020) (alteration in original) (quoting Jersey Cent. Power &Light Co. v. Melcar Util. Co., 212 N.J. 576, 594 (2013)). Def......
  • Buddy v. Knapp, A-4339-18
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • August 17, 2021
    ..."'[a]n expert's opinion on a question of law is neither appropriate nor probative.'" Est. of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, 464 N.J.Super. 153, 171 (App. Div. 2020) (quoting Kamienski v. State, 451 N.J.Super. 499, 518 (App. Div. 2017)), certif. denied, 245 N.J. 585 (2021). The "act......
  • Diaz v. Reynoso, DOCKET NO. A-1285-20
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • June 1, 2021
    ...case and generate intelligible and sensible rules to govern future conduct." Estate of Campagna v. Pleasant Point Props., LLC, 464 N.J. Super. 153, 178 (App. Div. 2020) (quoting Hopkins, 132 N.J. at 439), certif. denied, 245 N.J. 585 (2021).B. The issues of duty here are influenced by both ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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