On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 172 N.J. Super. 399 (1980).
For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Sullivan, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler and Pollock. For affirmance -- Justice Pashman. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Sullivan, J. Pashman, J., dissenting.
Plaintiff Jossline Faustin was denied an annulment of her marriage to Maurice Lewis based upon a trial court ruling that she was guilty of "unclean hands" and thus not entitled to judicial relief. The Appellate Division affirmed. 172 N.J. Super. 399 (1980). This Court granted certification to consider the extent to which the equitable doctrine of unclean hands should have continued application to annulment proceedings.
The facts appear undisputed, although the case was never fully litigated, the ruling being made solely upon plaintiff's offer of proof. Plaintiff is a native Haitian who came to this country in 1974 on a temporary visitor's visa. At that time,
defendant was in the employ of persons engaged in the unlawful business of arranging sham marriages between United States citizens and Haitians for a fee of between $500 and $1200 so that the latter could obtain permanent residence in this country. Defendant, using various names, had married a number of Haitians for this purpose. On November 4, 1974, he participated in a marriage ceremony with plaintiff in Newark, New Jersey, which was performed by Reverend Heber Brown. It is undisputed that plaintiff and defendant participated in the ceremony solely for the purpose of making plaintiff eligible for lawful permanent residence in the United States. Plaintiff had no marital relationship with defendant either before or after the ceremony.
In June 1977, a federal grand jury indicted defendant and several other persons for unlawfully assisting Haitian aliens to fraudulently obtain permanent residence in the United States in violation of the immigration and naturalization laws. One of the counts specifically referred to defendant's marriage to plaintiff. Reverend Brown was named in the indictment as an unindicted co-conspirator.
In February 1978, plaintiff filed the present action in the Chancery Division seeking an annulment of her marriage to defendant. The complaint, after reciting the foregoing facts, does not specify the grounds for annulment except to allege that the marriage was fraudulent. Defendant did not answer the complaint and a default was entered against him. At the final hearing, plaintiff sought to amend the complaint to include an additional count alleging a bigamous marriage. The court, however, denied the application because notice thereof had not been given to the defendant.
On December 20, 1978, the trial court dismissed plaintiff's complaint, ruling that, even if plaintiff proved the allegations in the complaint, she would not be entitled to relief because she had knowingly participated in the fraudulent marriage and had entered into it solely to obtain permanent residence in the
United States. The court held that plaintiff came into court with unclean hands and thus was not entitled to the relief sought. The Appellate Division affirmed for essentially the same reasons. 172 N.J. Super. 399 (1980).
The divorce and nullity statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1 et seq., specifies the causes for judgments of nullity. In pertinent part it provides:
Judgments of nullity of marriage may be rendered in all cases, when:
d. The parties, or either of them, lacked capacity to marry due to want of understanding because of mental condition, or the influence of intoxicants, drugs, or similar agents; or where there was a lack of mutual assent to the marital relationship; duress; or fraud as to the ...