December 28, 2007
WANDA WILSON, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
JAMES R. HILL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Essex County, No. C-19-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 11, 2007
Before Judges Wefing and R. B. Coleman.
In May 2006 the trial court entered a default judgment against defendants James R. Hill and James F. Hill, setting aside two deeds conveying to the defendant James R. Hill properties located at 122 North Day Street in Orange, New Jersey, and 252 Ward Place in South Orange, New Jersey. The trial court subsequently denied the motion of James R. Hill to set aside that default judgment, as well as his motion for reconsideration. Defendant James R. Hill has appealed. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
Defendant James F. Hill is the father of appellant James R. Hill. According to plaintiff's complaint, James F. Hill had been the owner of the North Day Street and Ward Place properties. James F. Hill was arrested in Pennsylvania and required bail in the amount of fifteen thousand dollars to be released from custody. Plaintiff posted this bail on his behalf. Several months later, James F. Hill was again arrested in Pennsylvania on additional charges and required additional bail. Plaintiff agreed to post this additional bail on his behalf if he agreed to transfer to her name these two parcels of property to secure her against the possibility that he might abscond and she lose the funds she had put up on his behalf. In April 2004 James F. Hill executed the requisite deeds, which were recorded with the Essex County Register. Thereafter, James F. Hill was again arrested and incarcerated in New Jersey. We are informed that only one of the bails plaintiff had posted in Pennsylvania was exonerated.
Several months later, deeds were executed and recorded transferring these two parcels from plaintiff's name into the name of defendant James R. Hill. Plaintiff filed her complaint in January 2005, alleging that she had not executed these two subsequent deeds and seeking to set them aside as the product of forgery and fraud. She named as defendants James F. Hill and James R. Hill, as well as Chris Johnson, Dewanna L. Crudup and Natalie Rutledge, all of whom she alleged were involved in the preparation and execution of these fraudulent deeds. The record before us does not disclose the disposition of plaintiff's claims against these four additional defendants.
Default was entered against James F. Hill and James R. Hill. Following a proof hearing, the trial court entered the default judgment which is the subject of this appeal. That judgment, entered May 10, 2006, directed the Essex County Register to cancel the deeds which had transferred these properties to the name of James R. Hill.
The following month, a motion was filed on behalf of both James F. Hill and James R. Hill to set aside that default judgment. That motion was denied. In August 2006 James R. Hill moved for reconsideration. He included in his motion papers a certification that he had not been properly served with the complaint; he maintained that the complaint had been delivered to an attorney representing the two Hills on an unrelated matter but who was not authorized to accept service of process on his behalf in this matter. James R. Hill also certified that he had resided in the Ward Place residence since his father purchased it in 2001 and had paid the mortgage, taxes and maintenance on the premises. He further certified that plaintiff had been involved in a romantic relationship with his father for approximately one year prior to his father's first arrest in Pennsylvania. James R. Hill stated in his certification that plaintiff had fraudulently arranged to have title to these properties placed in her name. The trial court denied the motion for reconsideration.
The trial court noted in its oral decision that the contention of James R. Hill that he had not been properly served was belied by the sheriff's return of service, which showed personal service.*fn1 The trial court noted that the only reason James R. Hill asserted he had failed to appear was financial in nature. The trial court properly rejected such grounds, noting that he had made no effort to appear pro se and had not presented any objection to the relief requested in the complaint. The trial court also noted that it was familiar with the matter which had been pending before it for some time, as well as with the unsuccessful efforts that had been made to negotiate a resolution of the dispute.
The trial court noted the appropriate legal principles which governed its decision of an application both to set aside a default judgment and for reconsideration. We are unable to conclude that the trial court's analysis was in any way incorrect or that the trial court's decision represents an abuse of its discretion.
We affirm, substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Klein in her oral opinions of July 28, 2006, and September 15, 2006.