On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Civil Part, Middlesex County, DJ-243929-03.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kestin, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Kestin, Hoens and R. B. Coleman.
In this case of first impression, plaintiffs appeal from the trial court's order denying recognition and enforcement of a California judgment entered in their favor against defendant.
In reversing that determination, we hold that New Jersey's laws pertaining to judgments and their enforcement apply to afford a foreign judgment the same life as a domestic judgment where enforcement proceedings were commenced in New Jersey while the foreign judgment was still viable in the rendering state, even though the life of that judgment has since expired under the laws of that state.
Plaintiffs had filed the judgment in New Jersey pursuant to the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UEFJA), N.J.S.A. 2A:49A-25 to -33, this State's selected means for discharging its Full Faith and Credit obligations. U.S. Const. art. IV, § 1. See Enron (Thrace) Exploration & Prod. BV and ECT Europe Fin., Inc. v. Clapp, 378 N.J. Super. 8, 15 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 185 N.J. 392 (2005). The trial court ultimately held that the expiration of the judgment in California, after plaintiffs had filed it in New Jersey during its life, precluded its enforcement in New Jersey. On appeal, plaintiffs contend that the trial court erred by failing to apply N.J.S.A. 2A:14-5 and N.J.S.A. 2A:49A-27 according to their terms. We agree.
On October 12, 1993, the Superior Court of California entered a default judgment in favor of plaintiffs and against defendant for $102,423. On October 2 and 10, 2003, respectively, plaintiffs filed copies of the judgment with the New Jersey Superior Court, Middlesex County, and with the judgment unit of the Superior Court Clerk's office. The affidavit of plaintiffs' attorney, referred to in both transmittals, was not filed until October 15, 2003, however.
In a motion dated November 3, 2003, returnable on November 21, 2003, defendant sought an order denying enforcement and staying execution of the judgment. The matter did not come before the trial court for many months, apparently because the court had permitted a period of discovery regarding a question of service of process in the underlying suit.
In the trial court's September 2, 2004 oral opinion, the judge referred to "oral argument in this Court on 8/27/04,"*fn1 in which both counsel had stated that they would not be producing any witnesses for a hearing, which they had requested, so that the Court could determine the issue of credibility that existed in this matter [regarding the validity of personal service in the underlying suit].
Having so waived their request for a hearing, the Court is prepared to rule upon the papers.
After analyzing the facts as presented in the light of California law, the court denied defendant's motion because there had been no motion in the California court, within the time required under that State's law, to vacate the default and judgment that had been entered in the underlying matter.
Following this denial, defendant sought to vacate the judgment in California, and learned that, under California law, the judgment had expired after ten years. Defendant then filed a notice of appeal from the September 2, 2004 order. In an order entered on November 30, 2004, on defendant's motion emphasizing this newly discovered fact, ...