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Artistic Lawn & Landscape Company, Inc. v. Smith

381 N.J. Super. 75, 884 A.2d 828 (Law Div. 2005)

CONSUMER FRAUD; DAMAGES—For there to be a trebling of damages under the Consumer Fraud Act, there must be a causal relationship between the deceptive commercial practice and the loss.

An unlicensed landscape contractor entered into a contract with a homeowner to install an in-ground sprinkler system. The contractor gave the homeowner a written agreement that provided for a nine-zone automatic controller for the sprinkler system. The contractor installed an eight-zone controller and only installed five sprinkler zones. The installation took place on the same date the contract was signed. When the contractor demanded payment, the homeowner argued that he was to receive nine sprinkler zones instead of five, and that the contractor was supposed to tie the systems to the house but failed to do so. When the homeowner refused to pay, the contractor sued. The homeowner filed a counterclaim under the Consumer Fraud Act. The homeowner claimed that the contractor violated the Consumer Fraud Act in two ways. First, the homeowner claimed that the contractor engaged in unconscionable, deceitful business practices by failing to clearly disclose that he was installing five zones and without spelling out who was responsible for connecting the sprinkler system to the water supply. Second, the homeowner claimed that the contractor violated the act because it was not a licensed contractor.

The Court agreed that the contractor violated the act by providing home improvement services without a license. It also found that the contractor violated the Consumer Fraud Act because the contract lacked a starting date and an ending date for the work, did not contain an amendment with respect to the change of sprinkler controllers, and did not specify who was responsible for connecting the sprinklers to the water supply. The Consumer Fraud Act provides for the refund of moneys paid by the consumer. It also provides for the reimbursement of the consumer’s attorney’s fees and triple damages. The homeowner claimed that the refunded deposit and reimbursement of attorney’s fees should be tripled. The Court disagreed. It noted that the statute provides for triple damages for ascertainable losses arising from the violation of the Act. Therefore, in order for a court to award triple damages, there must be a causal relationship between the deceptive commercial practice and the loss. The Court found that the refund of the deposit and the award of attorney’s fees were not such losses, and did not award triple damages.


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