In Branigan v. Level on the Level, the plaintiffs John D. Branigan and his wife, Beth Randall Branigan, alleged that the home renovation and improvement company Level on the Level, Inc. had performed work on their Victorian home that had resulted in water in their basement and the inability of their furnace to heat their entire home adequately. The initial court case led to the involuntary dismissal of all charges against Level on the Level and David Marlinski, the president of the company. The case was then appealed to the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division, where the decision was partially overturned in favor of the plaintiffs.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court record for the initial case, the Branigans contracted with Level on the Level to perform extensive home improvement that was intended to repair and renovate some areas of their home while adding a significant amount of space to the living areas of the Victorian house. The initial specifications comprised 24 pages and outlined specific requirements, which were implemented into the contract between the Branigans and Level on the Level.
When the project was complete, the Branigans found that there was water in the basement under certain circumstances and that the heating system was inadequate to provide comfortable indoor temperatures during the winter months. The plaintiffs called several expert witnesses, including a heating and cooling expert and a professional engineer. They also called Marlinski as an expert witness regarding the construction work performed on the Branigan home.
The court found that the Branigans were largely responsible for the decisions that led to water in their basement and to an inadequately sized heating system for their expanded living space. Despite recommendations by Marlinski and others involved in the construction process, the Branigans declined to install water prevention or water removal systems outside the foundation or in the new basement area made necessary by the additional space. The Branigans also insisted that the existing furnace be used to carry the additional load of the new spaces, which proved to be impractical. As a result, the Branigans were forced to install a new furnace to manage the heating of these areas.
The initial court ruling did find that Marlinski was in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act for failing to include a starting and a completion date in his contract with the Branigans. Since this oversight did not cause any damage to the Branigans, however, the lower court decided that it was irrelevant and dismissed the case entirely.
The Appellate Court Ruling
The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division agreed that the primary elements of the case by the Branigans was not supported by evidence or legal precedent. The appellate court did, however, reverse a portion of the dismissal, stating that even though the lack of starting and completion dates did not cause damages to the plaintiffs, they are sufficient grounds for awarding attorney’s fees, filing fees and costs to the plaintiff. Since Marlinski’s failure to provide these dates did constitute a violation of the provisions of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, he and his company Level on the Level were responsible for paying for an appropriate award of reasonable attorney costs, filing fees and other costs of the lawsuit.
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