This is an action for the establishment and foreclosure of a Welfare Board lien under N.J.S.A. 44:7-14 and Chapter 219 of the Laws of 1931. The case was tried principally on facts stipulated by the parties.
On March 1, 1935 Minnie Searing applied to plaintiff Bergen County Welfare Board for old age relief. Upon the granting of said relief she executed on March 25, 1935 an agreement to reimburse which was filed in the Bergen County Clerk's office on April 5, 1935 under File Number 132, Old Age Relief Liens, an unindexed file. Pursuant to the agreement, plaintiff paid to Minnie Searing $180 in 1935, $216 in 1936, and $36 during the first two months of 1937. Her case was discontinued by plaintiff as of March 1, 1937.
Minnie Searing was the record owner of the premises at 329 Moore Avenue, Leonia, New Jersey, on March 25, 1935, the date of the agreement to reimburse. The property had been conveyed in 1919 to Hudson Searing and Minnie Searing, his wife. Mrs. Searing, as widow, on December 26, 1934, mortgaged the premises to the Home owners Loan Corporation for the sum of $3,683.95. By deed dated June 1, 1937, and recorded June 18, 1937, Minnie Searing conveyed title to the premises to her son Lawrence D. Rieper, Sr. The deed contained no revenue stamps and the conveyance was subject to the first mortgage held by the Home Owners Loan Corporation.
Minnie Searing reapplied to the plaintiff for relief on April 25, 1952. From May 1, 1952 to the end of 1952 she was paid $1,189.75 and in 1953 she was paid $1,850.25. In 1954 the plaintiff paid her $1,858.50, and in 1955 $200 was paid on account of her funeral expenses. Prior to obtaining this relief, Mrs. Searing executed another agreement to reimburse dated May 1, 1952 and this document was
filed on June 5, 1952 in the Bergen County Clerk's office under File Number 7109 under Reimbursement Agreements, Book L to Z, which contains agreements to reimburse filed from August 1, 1936 up to December 31, 1960. Entries in this book are made alphabetically by last name of the welfare recipient without regard to filing date.
Minnie Searing received $432 in 1935-1937; $5,098.50 from May 1, 1952 to 1955. The Bergen County Welfare Board has been reimbursed the sum of $430.20 by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and $87.50 as a return of advancement from the Brightside Sanitorium. Hence the plaintiff is claiming the sum of $5,012.80 as being due and owing to it. A certificate of assistance granted, dated January 11, 1955, was filed February 1, 1955 as Number 7109 stating the amount to have been granted from March 1, 1935 to December 31, 1954 to be $5,330.50 (obviously this did not include the $200 funeral expense). This certificate was attached to the notice of agreement to reimburse on file as Number 7109.
In 1953 Rieper died and his will was admitted to probate on June 4 of that year. On June 23, 1953 Paul H. Rieper and Catherine Rieper, his wife, and John H. Rieper conveyed the premises to Lawrence D. Rieper. John, Paul and Lawrence Rieper were the beneficiaries and devisees under the will of Lawrence D. Rieper, Sr.
On October 11, 1955 Lawrence D. Rieper and Erika K. Rieper, his wife, and John H. Rieper and Edith Rieper, his wife, conveyed the premises to John Goodro and Elaine Goodro, his wife, by warranty deed.
Thereafter, on January 28, 1960, the Goodros conveyed the premises by warranty deed to Douglas H. Pennoyer, Jr. On June 11, 1962 plaintiff sent a letter to Pennoyer which recited the fact that plaintiff had a lien on the property amounting to $5,012.80. Westervelt and Leslie, Esquires, Pennoyer's attorneys, replied to the board by a letter dated June 14, 1962 in which they took the position that the lien was invalid. On October 30, 1962 Pennoyer conveyed
the premises to the defendants Rudolph V. Gross and Georgette R. Gross, his wife, by bargain and sale deed.
Plaintiff contends that if defendants had properly searched the records they would have ascertained the existence of the alleged lien filed in 1935 under File Number 132 and would have been put upon inquiry to the board and thereby would have learned of the reimbursement agreement of May 1, 1952 and the amount of advances thereunder.
At the trial herein the witness Bernita Vienckowski, a title searcher and president of a title abstract company, who was produced as an expert by the defendants, testified his search of the records disclosed there were no revenue stamps on the June 23, 1953 deed to Lawrence D. Rieper; that the October 11, 1955 deed to the Goodros bore $16.50 worth of revenue stamps; the January 28, 1960 deed, Goodros to Pennoyer, which was subject to a mortgage balance, $4.95 revenue stamps, and the October 30, 1962 deed, Pennoyer to Gross, $24.75 revenue stamps.
There is no proof that the Grosses had actual knowledge of plaintiff's alleged lien or that Pennoyer had any such knowledge when he took title. (Plaintiff's letter to Pennoyer was written almost a year and a half after he had taken title from the Goodros.) Then too, there likewise is no proof that the Goodros had any actual knowledge of the claim.
Vienckowski testified a title searcher treats a reimbursement agreement as a judgment and hence searches all owners in a chain of title for a period of twenty years. If there is a conveyance out prior to the judgment period, he would not search it. He also stated it is not possible to search for reimbursement agreements filed prior to 1936 since there is no record, that is, no index of reimbursement agreements prior to 1936. Any reimbursement agreements or notices filed after a conveyance by an owner would be ignored by a title searcher, just as a judgment after a conveyance would be ignored.
When asked to assume the facts set forth in the stipulation of facts herein, and that he was searching the title in 1962 for a 1962 purchaser, the witness answered he would not have ascertained the existence of ...