On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. F-3873-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Winkelstein, Yannotti and LeWinn.
On March 11, 2005, plaintiff Alberto Rodriguez filed an action in the Chancery Division to foreclose on a tax sale certificate. Defendant Lorenzo Santangelo appeals from an order entered by the court on July 22, 2005, striking his answer to the complaint, and an order entered on September 23, 2005, denying his motion for reconsideration. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The facts pertinent to this dispute are relatively straightforward. Calagero Santangelo and his wife Angelina Santangelo were the record owners of certain real property in Atlantic City, which is identified as Lot 21, Block 338 on the City's tax map, and commonly known as 127 North Georgia Avenue. Angelina Santangelo died in June 1973, and Calagero Santangelo died in January 1974.
On November 24, 1987, the City conducted a public sale of a tax sale certificate for unpaid municipal taxes assessed in 1986, and accrued interest, in the amount of $1,622.54. There were no bidders at the sale, and the certificate was sold to the City by default. The City's tax assessor issued Tax Sale Certificate No. 015876 to the City. On July 9, 1991, plaintiff purchased an assignment of the tax sale certificate from the City. The City Council confirmed the assignment by resolution adopted at its meeting of August 7, 1991. In 1994, the City recorded the tax sale certificate.
On December 5, 1995, the City sold Tax Sale Certificate No. 950338W to Tax Funding, L.P. for certain unpaid water service charges in the amount of $752.51 that had been assessed on the property. In addition, on May 28, 1998, the City sold Tax Sale Certificate No. 950122 to FUNB for unpaid taxes assessed on the property in 1997, plus accrued interest, in the amount of $2,530.83.
In 2004, plaintiff retained counsel for the purpose of foreclosing on the subject property. Plaintiff was advised that he could not foreclose because he had not done so within two years of the date of his purchase of the tax sale certificate and plaintiff's "right, title and interest" in the property had reverted to the City pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:5-114.5.
Plaintiff's counsel approached the City in an effort to resolve the matter. On October 6, 2004, the City Council adopted a resolution authorizing the private sale of the tax sale certificate to plaintiff. The resolution noted that the City had assigned the certificate to plaintiff in 1991 but failed to record the assignment until 1994. The resolution stated that this may have cast "some question on the validity of the sale[.]"
The resolution further noted that plaintiff was unaware of the problem with the sale and "continued to pay taxes on the property through the years in excess of $45,000." The City gave plaintiff credit for all of the taxes and charges he had paid on the property, with interest. The tax assessor issued a "corrective assignment" on November 15, 2004, and it was recorded on February 9, 2005.
Plaintiff thereafter filed this foreclosure action. Defendant, who is the son of Angelina and Calagero Santangelo, and the executor of his father's estate, filed an answer in which he asserted that plaintiff could not maintain the foreclosure action because the initial tax sale certificate and the "corrective assignment" were invalid.
Plaintiff filed a motion to strike defendant's answer, and defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the foreclosure complaint. Defendant argued that the initial tax sale certificate had reverted to the City by operation of law because plaintiff did not institute a foreclosure action within two years of the date he acquired the certificate. Defendant additionally argued that the issuance by the City of tax sale certificates in 1995 and 1998 included the City's interest in the property as reflected in the 1987 tax sale certificate. Therefore, according to plaintiff, the City's subsequent "corrective assignment" was invalid.
Judge William C. Todd, III, considered the motions on June 22, 2005. After hearing argument from counsel, the judge placed his decision on the record. The judge noted that there were procedural problems with the initial tax sale certificate, specifically the City's failure to record that certificate until after the City had assigned it to plaintiff in 1991, and plaintiff's failure to foreclose within two years of the date he acquired the certificate. Judge Todd ...