by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)
In the past, I have written about whether property owners can be liable for slip-and-fall accidents caused by ice and snow on their sidewalks. (Click here, here, and here for examples.) This is the first time I will address the related topic of whether property owners can be liable for accidents caused by "spiky seed pods" that fall from sweetgum trees on their property. Turns out that the source of the slippery sidewalk does not change the law too much for residential property owners.
In Neilson v. Dunn, plaintiff was injured when she slipped on spiky seed pods that fell from a sweetgum tree on defendant's property onto an adjacent sidewalk. The tree had been on defendant's property since she and her husband bought it, and plaintiff knew that there were seed pods on the sidewalk when she began her walk. Defendant also "employ[ed] a lawn maintenance contractor whose services include fall and spring clean ups." The most recent clean up occurred two month's prior to plaintiff's accident.
After plaintiff sued, defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that she could not be liable for plaintiff's injuries because she had neither created nor exacerbated a dangerous condition on the sidewalk. She argued that the "seed pod accumulation" was a natural condition over which she had no control, and that she acted reasonably in retaining a lawn maintenance service to "periodically clean up any debris, [including the seed pods,] on her lawn and sidewalk." Plaintiff countered that defendant had a duty to ensure that her property was spiky seed pod free and that her failure to do so created a hazardous condition.
Continue reading “Homeowner not liable for sweetgum spiky seed pod slip and fall”
by: Peter J. Gallagher
Two more Appellate Division panels have refused to allow defendant's in foreclosure lawsuits to raise standing as an eleventh-hour defense. As we previously reported — Changing Tide in Forclosure Litigation? Courts Taking Closer Look When Defendants Assert Lack Of Standing At Last Minute — there is now a clear trend against allowing defendants to stay silent in the face of a foreclosure lawsuit only to appear at the last minute, usually on the eve of a sheriff's sale, and seek to vacate final judgment based on an alleged lack of standing to foreclose. Two recent Appellate Division cases continue to bring this point home.
In IndyMac Bank FSB v. DeCastro, a residential borrower moved to vacate final judgment and dismiss the complaint 15 months after it was entered, arguing that he was not served with the complaint. The motion was denied. Defendant filed a second motion to vacate, arguing, for the first time, that the bank lacked standing to foreclose because it was not assigned the mortgage until after the complaint was filed. This motion was denied as untimely and defendant appealed. In an opinion, dated March 13, 2013, the Appellate Division affirmed. In its decision, among other things, the Appellate Division rejected defendant's standing argument, noting: "[W]e have now made clear that lack of standing is not a meritorious defense to a foreclosure complaint." Moreover, the Appellate Division held that defendant's standing argument was meritless "particularly given defendant's unexcused, years-long delay in asserting that defense or any other claim." In arriving at this decision, the Appellate Division relied on many of the cases discussed in our prior post.
Similarly, in WellsFargo Bank, N.A. v. Lopez, a different Appellate Division panel rejected another residential home owner's last-minute attempt to raise standing as a defense to the foreclosure complaint. The facts in that case were a bit more egregious because the borrower contributed to the four-year delay between the entry of default and the filing of his motion to vacate by filing numerous bankruptcy petitions and seeking a stay to attempt to short sell the property. Nonetheless, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion to vacate holding, among other things, that the lack of standing, even if true, was not a meritorious defense to a foreclosure complaint, particularly in the post-judgment context. Again, the Appellate Division relied primarily on the cases included in our prior post.
by: Peter J. Gallagher
In a series of recent decisions, New Jersey courts appear to be taking a stance against defendants raising, as a last-minute defense, that a party lacks standing to foreclose. This is good news for lenders and their assignees, who, prior to these decisions, faced the prospect of proceeding to final judgment of foreclosure, only to have a party appear at the last minute, allege a lack of standing to foreclose, and send the process back to square one.
The changing body of case law began with the Appellate Division’s opinion in Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas v. Angeles, 428 N.J. Super. 315 (App. Div. 2013). In that case, defendant failed to defend the action or assert a standing issue until two years after default judgment was entered and more than three years after the complaint was filed. Id. at 316. Interestingly, the Appellate Division acknowledged that defendant raised a valid concern about plaintiff’s standing to foreclose, but nonetheless refused to vacate final judgment. In explaining its decision, the Appellate Division noted:
In foreclosure matters, equity must be applied to plaintiffs as well as defendants. Defendant did not raise the issue of standing until he had the advantage of many years of delay. Some delay stemmed from the New Jersey foreclosure system, other delay was afforded him through the equitable powers of the court, and additional delay resulted from plaintiff's attempt to amicably resolve the matter. Defendant at no time denied his responsibility for the debt incurred nor can he reasonably argue that [Plaintiff] is not the party legitimately in possession of the property. Rather, when all hope of further delay expired, after his home was sold and he was evicted, he made a last-ditch effort to relitigate the case. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that defendant was not equitably entitled to vacate the judgment.
Id. at 320.
Continue reading “Changing Tide In Foreclosure Litigation? Courts Taking Closer Look When Defendants Assert Lack Of Standing At Last Minute”
by: Lawrence A. Calli
Owners of residential properties in New Jersey are no longer limiting themselves, in concept or use, to the idea that a person's home is a mere bastion of solitude and rest. Rather, many homeowners are expanding their use of residential lots. To be clear, we are not talking about simply adding a home office or mother/daughter suite. No, the newest trend appears to be raising livestock, and it’s not merely a trend in the southern and western counties of the State. The trend towards municipal ordinances permitting livestock on residential properties has already spread to urban areas (including Jersey City), and is regularly considered by mayors and councils throughout the State.
In a recent article, the Hopewell Valley News reported that the Hopewell Borough Council has been asked to consider an amendment to its land use ordinance that would allow residents to raise chickens in their backyards ("Hopewell: Backyard Chickens Are Council Topic"). The article notes that amendments in other parts of the State permit residents to keep as many as seven chickens within 25 feet of a neighbor’s property as long as the neighbor approves (larger flocks have to be kept 40 feet from the nearest neighbor).
Hopewell Township recently adopted an ordinance that permits residents to keep up to six chickens on their property. The ordinance gained some notoriety because it limits rooster visits to only 10 days per year, and requires that the roosters be disease-free before visiting with the hens. However, a spokesperson for Hopewell Township indicated that the amendment that Hopewell Borough adopts would not "in the slightest, possible way” mimic what occurred in Hopewell Township. In fact, "a majority of communities forbid roosters because some find the crowing noise they make a nuisance, especially if it occurs in the early morning hours."