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New Century Financial Services, Inc. v. Dennegar

July 17, 2007

NEW CENTURY FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
LEE B. DENNEGAR, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Somerset County, Docket No. SOM-DC-2466-05.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued May 31, 2007

Before Judges Wefing, C.S. Fisher and Messano.

In this appeal, we consider whether defendant was properly held liable for a credit card debt despite his contention that he never applied for or used the credit card. Because the evidence supported the trial judge's determination that defendant either expressly applied for the card, or authorized his roommate -- to whom he ceded authority over his finances --to apply for and use the card, we affirm the judgment entered in plaintiff's favor.

I.

The testimony revealed that AT&T Universal (AT&T) issued a credit card in the name of defendant Lee Dennegar (defendant) on or about February 1, 2001, that it thereafter sent monthly statements to defendant's home, and that $14,752.93 was due and owing when the debt was eventually assigned to plaintiff New Century Financial Services, Inc. (plaintiff).

Defendant asserted that he had no knowledge of this account. The evidence revealed that defendant lived in West Orange with a Mark Knutson from 1999 to 2000; they subsequently moved to 55 Thompson Street in Raritan in 2000. This home was owned by defendant. Knutson had no funds or income, and defendant's funds were used to pay the mortgage on the Raritan home, and all other household expenses, as they had been in West Orange.

Defendant testified that he had suffered a nervous breakdown in September 2001 and had been hospitalized for a period of time as well. Prior to his breakdown and until Knutson's death on June 22, 2003, defendant had allowed Knutson to manage their household's financial affairs and the "general office functions concerned with maintaining the house." Defendant admitted during his testimony that he allowed Knutson "to handle all the mail" and "left to [Knutson's] discretion to open [the mail] and to do with it as he chose." As a result, Knutson wrote out checks for defendant to sign, although defendant testified that he "rarely signed checks at all." In fact, defendant testified that he then knew that "Knutson was signing [defendant's] name to many of the checks," and that he had no objection to this course of conduct.

Once Knutson died, defendant learned that Knutson had incurred obligations in his name of which he was not previously aware. Not long thereafter, plaintiff commenced this suit in the Special Civil Part to collect from defendant the amount of the outstanding debt. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge found that "defendant created the situation where someone else would utilize his financial resources to pay for the joint expenses." He held that either defendant or Knutson had opened this account in February 2001 and that defendant was liable for the debt that thereafter accrued. Judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $14,752.93 plus costs.

On appeal, defendant argues that the trial judge (1) erroneously admitted hearsay evidence and (2) abused his discretion in denying defendant the right to seek additional discovery from plaintiff. In addition, defendant contends that (3) the evidence failed to demonstrate the formation of a contract between AT&T and defendant, or that Knutson had the apparent authority to act for defendant, and (4) plaintiff or its assignor failed to comply with the requirements of the Truth In Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1601 to 1667.

II.

We find insufficient merit in Points I and II to warrant discussion in a written opinion, R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E), adding ...


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