New Jersey Supreme Court reverses dismissal of discrimination suit filed by owner of group home

By Charmaine Little | Jan 7, 2019

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – In a case in which a group of people allegedly attempted to interfere with the purchase of a group home for autistic individuals, the appellate division of the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed an order that dismissed the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) case on Dec. 10.

Appellate Division Presiding Judge Clarkson Fisher ruled on the case.

"Plaintiff asserted actionable LAD claims and the motion judge erred in dismissing the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief might be granted," Fisher wrote. "We reverse the order that dismissed the complaint and that denied (plaintiff Oasis Therapeutic Life Centers) leave to file an amended complaint that would include its tortious interference claims."  

Defendants in the case were Navesink Investments LLC, Robert Phillips, Loren Phillips, Peter G. Wade and Susan Wade.

The court first determined that just because Oasis isn’t an individual doesn’t mean it’s not protected under the LAD. It also ruled that Oasis has done enough to make its claim under LAD. 

The purpose of LAD is to eliminate “the cancer of discrimination,” Fisher wrote.

New Jersey law itself states that it’s illegal “to discriminate against any buyer or renter because of the disability of a person residing in or intending to reside in a dwelling after it is sold, rented or made available or because of any persona associated with the buyer or renter,” according to the opinion. 

"That provision clearly does not mean that a seller or landlord must possess the discriminatory intent or that a buyer or renter is the person directly discriminated against. This provision's plain meaning supports what is alleged to have occurred here – that defendants targeted and tormented Oasis because Oasis was providing a residence for autistic individuals," Fisher wrote.

In this case, even if the prior homeowners themselves didn’t discriminate against Oasis, the defendants allegedly attempted to infringe on the sale when they allegedly tried to convince the owner not to sell to Oasis and went as far as allegedly harassing Oasis once it acquired the property.

The court wasn't convinced on the defendants’ claim citing their First Amendment rights.

"We similarly reject defendants' argument that the First Amendment insulates them from Oasis's claims," the opinion states. "Defendants were not free to violate the LAD simply because the means used to discriminate included speech."

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