Court Ordered Disgruntled Retirement Community Residents to Stop “Disparagement” Management, Then Reconsidered

Starting at Fellowship Senior Living, Inc.The case was decided by Yolanda Ciccicone (New Jersey Trial Court Judge), in 2020. It was posted to Westlaw just a few days before:

The suit stems from the Schenks’ inability to pay their monthly residency fee and attendant recurring services charges, which began June 2017 and continues through October 2018. The Schenks signed the Fellowship Village CCRC Residency Agreement on March 18, 2010. Fellowship then accepted them as Lifecare Residents in Fellowship Village CCRC. They agreed to offer housing and other healthcare services as required.

According to the Agreement the Schenks have agreed to pay Fellowship an entrance fee as well ongoing fees for service such as cable television, carports and telephones. The claims of each party have been counterclaimed and claimed by third parties. These claims have been largely resolved through the Schenks tender of $140501.36 as partial payment of outstanding amounts due to the Court in its November 7, 2019, Order.

A court issued an order, among other things, “enjoining”[ed]The Schenks to refrain from any future discredit or derogatory communications towards Fellowship, its Officers Board Members Employees or Agents.” But the Schenks later allowed them the right to reconsider.

Plaintiff asserts that the limitation was put in place to promote civility and respectful speech. Plaintiff states that Fellowship’s chief executive officer, as well as other members of its board of directors, has been disseminated hundreds of false letters by the Schenks over the nine-year period. Plaintiff claims the court order does not unconstitutionally impinge on Schenks speech.

New Jersey Constitution provides a wide affirmative right of free speech. “Everyone may freely talk, write, and publish his thoughts on any subject, without being held responsible for its abuse.” There shall not be any law passed that restricts or abrogates the freedom to speech and press. That guarantee is one of the broadest in the nation, and it affords greater protection than the First Amendment….

New Jersey repeatedly recognizes the free speech rights residents of similar-sized planned developments as Fellowship. The court agreed that residents should comment on the management of planned developments. Being critical of decisions and disseminating information about decisions affecting a resident is critical….

For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s Motion for Reconsideration is GRANTED in part for the permanent injunction on future disparagement….