On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County, Docket No. L-250-07.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lyons, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing, R. B. Coleman and Lyons.
Plaintiff E.F.G. appeals from an order entered April 20, 2007, and an order dated June 4, 2007. The April 20 order denied plaintiff's application to assume a new name, her request to waive the requirement to publish notice, and her request that the matter be placed under seal and not be entered in any data base accessible by the public. The June 4 order denied plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the April 10 order. Because we find that adhering to the rule requiring publication of an application to change a name would result in an injustice, and because we find that good cause exists to seal the court record in this matter, we reverse.
The following factual and procedural history is relevant to our consideration of the issues advanced on appeal. On April 16, 2007, plaintiff filed an action to assume another name in accordance with N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1. The statute reads as follows:
Any person may institute an action in Superior Court, for authority to assume another name. The complaint for a change of name shall be accompanied by a sworn affidavit stating the applicant's name, date of birth, social security number, whether or not the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime, and whether any criminal charges are pending against him and, if such convictions or pending charges exist, shall provide such details in connection therewith sufficient to readily identify the matter referred to. The sworn affidavit shall also recite that the action for a change of name is not being instituted for purposes of avoiding or obstructing criminal prosecution or for avoiding creditors or perpetrating a criminal or civil fraud. If criminal charges are pending, the applicant shall serve a copy of the complaint and affidavit upon any State or county prosecuting authority responsible for the prosecution of any pending charges. A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if he knowingly gives or causes to be given false information under this section. [N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1.]
Plaintiff's verified complaint contained the information required by N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1. In addition, plaintiff's complaint advised the trial court that she was seeking a new name because she is a victim of domestic violence; her abuser continues to contact her after the entry of a restraining order; she believes that her life is in danger; and that she would like to start a new life.
Attached to plaintiff's complaint is a lengthy certification by plaintiff outlining in great detail the history of domestic violence to which she was subjected for many years. Plaintiff's certification has attached to it various police reports, medical records, court records, including protective orders and restraining orders, as well as photographs showing her injuries. A review of the verified complaint, and the certification attached to it, as well as all the exhibits, paint a sad and tragic picture of serious life-threatening domestic violence toward plaintiff.
In order to assume a new name, a plaintiff must not only comply with N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1, but also with Rule 4:72. That rule implements the statutory authority for a change of name. It provides that a verified complaint for a name change must contain the requirements set forth in the statute and that notice of the name change application must be published. Rule 4:72-3 reads in relevant part:
The court by order shall fix a date for hearing not less than 30 days after the date of the order. Notice of application shall then be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county of plaintiff's residence once, at least two weeks preceding the date of the hearing.
As with almost all court proceedings, an application for a change of name is conducted in open court. R. 1:2-1. The records of name changes are generally available for ...