On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County, Law Division, Special Civil Part, DC-14757-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Alvarez.
Plaintiff, Robert J. Triffin, appeals from a judgment dismissing a Special Civil Part complaint in which he sought recovery of $168.39 on a dishonored check, issued by Complete Personnel Services, Inc. (CPS), payable to Jamil Saunders. The parties appeared pro se. We reverse and remand.
CPS issued payroll check number 66631 on its account with Commerce Bank to Saunders on September 20, 2005. Thereafter, on September 25, 2005, Saunders informed CPS and its president, Joseph Scarbaci, that he never received the check. Scarbaci asked Saunders to wait a week to make sure the missing check was truly lost and not just delayed in the mail. On September 27, 2005, Saunders advised CPS that the check was still missing. On that same day, CPS issued Saunders check number 2082 in the same amount, and put a "Stop Payment" on check number 66631.
Both checks were cashed. Check number 66631 was cashed at Friendly Check Cashing Corp. (Friendly) but was dishonored by Commerce Bank in accord with its customer's direction. The check was returned to Friendly.
Plaintiff purchased the dishonored check, purportedly under an assignment of Friendly's interest dated April 6, 2006. Plaintiff now claims to stand in the shoes of Friendly, and to have by virtue of the assignment, acquired all of Friendly's rights as a holder in due course. N.J.S.A. 12A:3-302(a).
To prevail, plaintiff must prove that Friendly "was a holder in due course at the time it paid on the instrument and that [Friendly's] assignment to it was valid." Triffin v. Quality Urban Hous. Partners, 352 N.J. Super. 538, 542 (App. Div. 2002). The judge would not admit the assignment into evidence as a business record under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6) because he viewed the submission as lacking proper authentication and foundation. He nonetheless directed that it be "admitted" by consent of the parties for purposes of appellate review only. In the Small Claims Section of the Special Civil Part, rules of evidence can be relaxed. N.J.R.E. 101(a)(2)(A). In this case, however, although we can guess at the judge's concern, he did not explain this novel limited admission. Reading between the lines, he was concerned as to the legitimacy of the document.
Plaintiff has been convicted of fraud in Essex County for "affix[ing] facsimile signatures of the sellers to the assignments" and adding "numerous substantive warranties, representations and contractual promises" to the assignment forms. Triffin v. Automatic Data Processing, Inc., 394 N.J. Super. 237, 246 (App. Div. 2007). The signature in the Friendly assignment agreement is somewhat irregular, and in fact appears to be either a stamp or facsimile superimposed over the signature line. It does not have the appearance of an original.
Plaintiff maintained at trial that "the document was created at or about the time of the assignment. In fact, I personally signed it in front of the assignor, who I personally saw sign it in front of me." Plaintiff was not under oath when he made these representations. No affidavit or certification from Friendly's president accompanied the assignment. Regardless of the reason for preclusion, because the judge did not accept the assignment in evidence, plaintiff could not establish his status as a holder in due course.
We cannot fairly ascertain from this record, in the absence of findings of facts, the judge's reason for barring admission of the assignment into evidence, but letting it in for purposes of appeal. As a general matter, "[d]etailed findings . . . should be given by the trial court, not only for our use in the event of an appeal, but for the parties' review so that they can consider the court's sound reasons for reaching a fair result." Tronolone v. Palmer, 224 N.J. Super. 92, 104 (App. Div. 1988). It is therefore necessary to reverse and remand the matter to allow plaintiff a second opportunity to establish the elements of his claimed status as a holder in due course, and for the trial court to make the requisite findings of facts and conclusions of law.