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Paul Lawrence Realty Associates, Inc. v. Barnes & Noble Bookstores

A-2219-97T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)

BROKERS; COMMISSIONS—A broker with an at will contract is not entitled to commissions for leases executed after termination if it is not the efficient procuring cause of the lease.

A bookseller assigned the complaining real estate broker and others to exclusive territories within which to represent it in locating properties suitable for its bookstores. During the course of the relationship, the complaining broker researched various properties and introduced its client to a number of potential sites. After the at-will relationship between the broker and its client terminated, these properties ultimately became locations for the client. The broker sued, claiming that it was entitled to commissions. The lower court rejected the claims and granted summary judgment in favor of the bookstore.

On appeal, the broker raised the following issues: the lower court misapplied the law of tortious interference; the lower court incorrectly made determinations regarding factual issues that should not have been determined in the context of a summary judgment motion; and, as a matter of law, the bookstore has been unjustly enriched by depriving the broker of its commission. The Appellate Division upheld the lower court. It found that the broker had failed to demonstrate that the bookstore engaged in any conduct which intentionally and wrongfully interfered with its broker’s expectation of a commission, precluding recovery under this theory. Also, except for one property, the broker had failed to cause any negotiations to ensue between the bookstore and the property owners. As for the remaining property, the broker initiated negotiations, but they had broken off for almost a year before they were resumed without the broker’s assistance. Therefore, the complaining broker was not an efficient procuring cause for any of these properties. The Appellate Division held that the broker was not entitled to a commission and rejected its claim of unjust enrichment.


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