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Damonte v. Martucci

January 17, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Civil Part, Essex County, DJ-216439-06.

Per curiam.


Submitted: December 12, 2007

Before Judges Collester and C. L. Miniman.

Defendant William C. Martucci appeals from the denial of his post-judgment motion to vacate a default judgment awarded to plaintiff John B. Damonte in the State of California, which was domesticated in New Jersey in 2006. The motion judge denied Martucci's application on the ground that he had not established that he was denied procedural due process and declared the judgment enforceable. We affirm.

On March 28, 2005, Damonte recovered a judgment by default in the California Superior Court in San Mateo County in the total sum of $404,285.40. Prior to the entry of judgment, Martucci through his California attorney moved on June 2, 2004, to quash the service of the summons and complaint on the ground that the court in California could not constitutionally exercise in personam jurisdiction over Martucci. That motion was apparently denied. Martucci's counsel withdrew from the matter and Martucci appeared pro se commencing on February 18, 2005. Although he sought a ninety-day adjournment of the trial scheduled for March 28, 2005, that was apparently denied. Martucci did not appear for trial and judgment was entered by default.

The judgment recited a $155,000 loan by Damonte to Electronic Marketing, Inc. (EMI), of which Martucci was president. The interest on the promissory note was forty-eight percent per annum with principal and interest due on or before January 15, 1998. The note was secured by a UCC-1 filing, a security agreement on $310,000 due EMI from Crystal Geyser Water Company (Crystal Geyser) and the personal guarantee of Martucci. The judgment contained these findings of fact: EMI had no account receivable from Crystal Geyser, Martucci had no intention of repaying the loan and Damonte relied to his detriment on intentional misrepresentations of material facts. The court awarded Damonte the principal on the note of $155,000 plus $111,635.39 in accrued interest. Additionally, the court awarded $100,000 in punitive damages, $35,289.98 in attorney fees*fn1 and $2360.40 in costs.

On November 16, 2005, Martucci filed a motion in California for relief from the judgment based on mistake or inadvertence and presented defenses to the action. That motion was denied on December 13, 2005, on the ground that Martucci "failed to meet his burden to show that the judgment was the result of mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect."

On August 25, 2006, the judgment was recorded in New Jersey under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UEFJA), N.J.S.A. 2A:49A-25 to -33, and the Clerk of the Superior Court issued an undated notice of docketing to Martucci. Martucci prepared, and may have filed, a document titled "Affirmative Answers" in Essex County setting up defenses on the merits and claiming a deprivation of due process. On October 3, 2006, Martucci filed a notice of motion to vacate the default judgment on the grounds that he did not receive due process in California, the California action was filed after the statute of limitations expired and he was not informed by the California court. Damonte opposed the motion, and his attorney certified that Martucci was personally served in New Jersey by a private process server, he failed to respond and on March 28, 2005, a default judgment was entered against him. Counsel asserted that the time to appeal under California's Civil Practice Law and Rules had expired and argued that Martucci was collaterally estopped from attacking the judgment and that New Jersey was required to recognize the judgment under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, Art. IV, § 1. On February 16, 2007, the Law Division judge denied Martucci's motion on the ground that he had failed "to establish breach of procedural due process, accordingly this judgment is enforceable." This appeal followed.

Martucci argues on appeal that he was in ill health, could not travel and was disadvantaged in trying to represent himself in California. He also contends that the California statute of limitations barred the action and Damonte lacked standing to sue because the lender on the promissory note was "Transcorp C/F John B. Damonte" Finally, he asserts that $5000 was paid before judgment was entered and should have been applied to principal, not interest. Damonte responds that the Full Faith and Credit Clause requires New Jersey to recognize the California judgment and that Martucci may not collaterally attack it.

The UEFJA is "this State's selected means for discharging its Full Faith and Credit obligations." Singh v. Sidana, 387 N.J. Super. 380, 382 (App. Div. 2006) (citing Enron (Thrace) Exploration & Prod. BV v. Clapp, 378 N.J. Super. 8, 15 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 185 N.J. 392 (2005)), certif. denied, 189 N.J. 428 (2007). "The UEFJA defines an enforceable 'foreign judgment' as 'any judgment, decree, or order of a court of the United States or of any other court which is entitled to full faith and credit in this State.'" Hall v. Michael Bello Ins. Agency, Inc., 379 N.J. Super. 599, 603 n.5 (App. Div. 2005) (citing N.J.S.A. 2A:49A-26). The California judgment at issue here "has the same effect as a New Jersey judgment." Ibid. (citing N.J.S.A. 2A:49A-27).

A properly authenticated foreign judgment may be filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court. Singh, supra, 387 N.J. Super. at 383-84. When such a judgment is filed,

The clerk shall treat the foreign judgment in the same manner as a judgment of the Superior Court of this State. A judgment so filed has the same effect and is subject to the same procedures, defenses and proceedings for reopening, vacating, or staying as a judgment of ...

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