Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Long Beach pays $125,000 to settle retaliation lawsuit

On December 21, 2009, the Township of Long Beach (Ocean County) agreed to pay $125,000 to a local man who claimed that Township officials "commenced and continued an outrageous, despicable, year long campaign of retaliation against" him. Named in the suit were Mayor DiAnne C. Gove, Commissioner Ralph H. Bayard, Zoning Official Francis A. Rowen, Construction Official Ron Pingaro and Municipal Attorney Richard Shackleton.

In his suit, Anthony Majer, claimed that Township officials set their sites on him after he complained about health and safety code violations committed by his neighbor Eugene Kelly, who is also named in the suit, who Majer claims has family and friends employed by the Township. According to Majer, the retaliation campaign included confiscation of his "open house" signs, issuance of "baseless Notices of Violation," "amendment of ordinances without any rational basis in order to prevent [him] from renting his home," and "effecting a 'local ordinance arrest'" against him.

Majer claims that he has, since 2000, owned a duplex on Long Beach Island that he rents out during the summer months. In 2003, he claims he was permanently disabled after being hit by a drunk driver, making the rental income more critical than before. In March 2004, Majer alleges, he called the police about Kelly's dog running loose and defecating on the lawn of another neighbor named Rohr. According to the complaint, the "fecal matter left on the Rohr lawn by the Kelly dog accumulated over many months and filled a thirty pound garbage bag."

Kelly, Majer claimed, was a long-time resident whose family had lived in the Township for over seventy five years. According to Majer, Kelly felt that he was entitled to special privileges because of the length of his residence and his family ties. He allegedly called Majer a "f------ a--hole" and told him that he did not know who he was "messing with."

After not being successful with court mediation, Majer claims he filed two citizen complaint against Kelly on May 23, 2005 because his dog allegedly still was running loose. Kelly allegedly threatened him by saying he would not be able to "rent his property anymore." Majer allegedly responded by filing harassment charges against Kelly.

Shortly thereafter, Majer alleges, John Jones, the DPW supervisor, confiscated one of Majer's "Open House-For Rent" signs. He also received a Notice of Violation on the same day alleging that placing the sign in the right-of-way violated a municipal ordinance. Then a day later, Pingaro allegedly went to Majer's home and confiscated three additional signs. Majer claims that many other residents put out similar signs and that none of them had any ordinances enforced against them.

After the signs were confiscated, Kelly allegedly told Majer "See what happens you fat f---, you're out of business now! We can settle his another way, why bother going to Court. I'll f------ kill you next time." These comments reportedly resulted in Majer filing another harassment claim against Kelly.

Then,on July 10, 2005, Kelly allegedly "made a false statement to the Township police that Mr. Majer 'lived in a shack with no bathroom." The police allegedly responded to Majer's home at 9:30 in the evening with three patrol cars with flashing lights to investigate whether or not Majer's home had a bathroom. The, other Township officials inspected Majer's bathroom but "broadened" their inspection to other rooms in Majer's house. The officials "questioned the validity of Mr. Majer's Certificate of Occupancy and hinted that his property taxes would be raised."

Majer claims that on September 29, 2005, he met with Township officials regarding the Notices of Violation. Attorney Shackleton, who was at the meeting, allegedly said that a temporary measure that allowed for temporary "open house" signs would be withdrawn and that all such signs, going forward, will be banned. Shackleton allegedly cited safety concerns for withdrawing the policy and also wanted to ensure that Mr. Majer didn't feel discriminated against.

Thereafter, the Township reportedly issued Majer another Notice of Violation for putting out an "open house" sign. Majer allegedly responded by documenting fifty other residence who had similar signs. One of those residents was reportedly sent a Notice of Violating, listing Majer as the "complainant" while the other forty-nine cases went unaddressed.

On November 10, 2005, the Township allegedly passed an ordinance banning "Open House-For Rent" signs while permitting "Open House-For Sale" signs. Majer claims that he was the only resident who put out "Open House-For Rent" signs, so the ordinance unfairly targeted him.

The complaint goes on to allege additional acts of retaliation including a Township street sweeper dumping sand and stones in front of Majer's house.

The case is captioned Majer v. Long Beach, Federal Case No. 3:06-cv-02919 and Majer's attorney was Steven Siegler of East Brunswick. The lawsuit, a court opinion and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Majer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Long Beach or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Beach or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Majer $125,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.