TOWNSQUARE VILLAGE HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., Plaintiff–Respondent, v. SANDRA J. WALTON and ROBERT WALTON, Defendants–Appellants.
Defendants Sandra J. and Robert Walton appeal from the January 7, 2013 order denying their post-trial motion to deny plaintiff's request for counsel fees, dismiss the complaint without prejudice and require alternative dispute resolution (ADR) pursuant to the Condominium Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8B–1 to –38. We affirm on the basis of the thorough supplemental opinion submitted to us by Judge David H. Ironson pursuant to Rule 2:5–1(b).
Plaintiff Townsquare Village Homeowners Association, Inc. filed a complaint against defendants for unpaid assessments on their unit. Defendants filed a counterclaim alleging violations of the Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8–1 to –20. A bench trial was held on March 12, 2012, after which judgment was entered against defendants in the amount of $1,535 plus $48 in costs. Reasonable counsel fees were awarded upon submission of a certification of services. On December 17, 2012, defendants filed a motion to vacate the March order and require ADR pursuant to N.J.S.A. 46:8B–14(k). The determination of reasonable attorney fees was stayed pending the motion to vacate.
We agree with Judge Ironson that defendants are not entitled to ADR after a full trial on the merits.1 We stated in Bell Tower Condo. Ass'n v. Haffert, 423 N.J.Super. 507, 515–18 (App.Div.2012) that the statute allowing for ADR is to be construed broadly and held that a party may seek it even after a law suit is filed. We decline to extend the ADR option to cases where litigation has concluded in favor of one party.
Townsquare argues as an alternate reason to affirm that it is a homeowners association and not a condominium association subject to the Condominium Act. In reply defendants argue that ADR is also mandated by the Planned Real Estate Full Disclosure Act, N.J.S.A. 45:22A–44(c). We need not reach this issue because we agree with Judge Ironson that defendants waited too long to seek ADR.
1. FN1. We note that defendants in their brief seek ADR “to resolve remaining issues between the parties, including attorneys' fees.” This may be a somewhat different request from that decided in the trial court, but the counsel fee issue relates to the trial court proceedings and the judge is best equipped to deal with it. It is far too late in the day for defendants to seek ADR on the quantification of counsel fees.