Fishing Hole Fight Fails To State Claim For Harassment And Discrimination

FishingA morning out fishing on the lake ended up in a lawsuit between two residents of a gated community. In Chrzanowski v. Harriz, plaintiff and defendant were both members of the Smoke Rise Club, which the court described as "essentially a homeowners association" for residents of a gated community known as Smoke Rise. One of the privileges of membership in the Smoke Rise Club is access to a lake and an adjacent beach and dock. One morning, plaintiff and his nine-year-old son were attempting to fish from the dock at the same time as Harriz when "a dispute occurred between [them] over fishing locations." Harriz told plaintiff that he did not want plaintiff fishing near him, "directed coarse and offensive language" at plaintiff and his son, and told plaintiff that plaintiff did not belong in the Smoke Rise Club.  Then, after Harris overhead plaintiff talking to his son in Polish, Harriz allegedly called plaintiff "an ignorant foreigner who could not speak English." As the dispute escalated, Plaintiff saw Harriz get on his phone and heard Harriz request that plaintiff be removed from the facilities. Feeling threatened, plaintiff called Smoke Rise security and the police. When the police arrived, they spoke to both parties and sent them both on their ways without filing any charges.

Plaintiff later sued Harriz and Smoke Rise, alleging (1) that both defendants discriminated against him by depriving him of his right to use a place of public accommodation and (2) that Harriz harassed him. Both defendants moved for summary judgment and the trial court granted both motions. The Appellate Division did not indicate the basis for the trial court's decision on the harassment claim, but it noted that the trial court dismissed the discrimination claim because the Smoke Rise Club and its amenities were private, and thus not places of public accommodation. Plaintiff appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed, albeit for slightly different reasons.


As it relates to the harassment claim, the Appellate Division held that it did not even have to reach the question of whether the Smoke Rise Club and its amenities were public or private. According to the Appellate Division, plaintiff's claim failed for a more basic reason. Under New Jersey law, it is unlawful discrimination "for any owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee of any place of public accommodation directly or indirectly to refuse, withhold from or deny to any person any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof, or to discriminate against any person in the furnishing thereof." Harriz was not an "owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee" of Smoke Rise, therefore he was not bound by this law. Conversely, even assuming his actions were in some way discriminatory, because he was not an "owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee" of Smoke Rise, his actions could not be attributed to Smoke Rise such that Smoke Rise could be liable for discrimination.

The Appellate Division also affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's harassment claim. The court observed that harassment is a violation of the criminal code, but that New Jersey has not recognized a corresponding tort action for damages. The closest tort analogy would be intentional infliction of emotional distress, but plaintiff could not state such a claim because he had not "suffered the type of severe emotional distress required to recover damages where there has been no physical injury."

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