On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-810-06 and Docket No. L-676-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 2, 2008
Before Judges Payne and Alvarez.
This is an appeal from a dismissal of two complaints filed under Docket Numbers L-810-06 and L-676-07. The proceedings relate to the same facts, involve the same parties, and essentially relate to the same claim for damages. For the reasons that follow, we affirm as to the initial complaint, L-810-06, but reverse and remand as to L-676-07.
On February 1, 2001, plaintiffs Charles Benjamin and Shari Benjamin purchased a 2001 Trail-Lite travel trailer from Sunbird Recreational, now known as Meyers Recreational and/or Meyer's RV Center, a named defendant.*fn1 The trailer was manufactured by defendant Trail-Lite,*fn2 a division of R-Vision, Inc. The laminated areas on the trailer were manufactured by defendant Kemlite.*fn3
Plaintiffs' initial complaint filed on March 2, 2006, sought compensatory and other damages arising from the delamination, which allegedly began in August 2005, of significant areas of the trailer. Plaintiffs' theories of recovery included breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranties, and violations of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 2301-2312, and the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 to 20.
Defendant thereafter filed a motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 4:6-2(e). Defendant asserted, as grounds for dismissal, that the four-year limitation period in which to file a complaint for breach of warranty, N.J.S.A. 12A:2-725(1), expired on February 20, 2005, more than a year before the complaint was filed. Plaintiffs did not oppose the dismissal with prejudice because their attorney believed defendant was correct as a matter of law. Dismissal was granted without the appearance of counsel, no record was made because the motion was unopposed, and an order was signed on May 26, 2006.
Plaintiffs' counsel then "became aware" that when plaintiffs purchased the travel trailer, they also purchased from defendant a five-year Supplemental Structural Warranty (SSW). On June 22, 2006, plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration, seeking reinstatement of the complaint on the grounds that the SSW constituted newly-discovered evidence. Defendant successfully opposed the application based on the argument that because plaintiffs had written to defendant demanding that the SSW be honored, on October 25, 2005, four months prior to the filing of their complaint, they were well aware of its existence at the time the motion to dismiss was filed. The October 25, 2005, letter was written directly by plaintiffs to defendant prior to the lawsuit and, presumably, before either party was represented. The motion for reconsideration was denied without prejudice in an undated order.
Plaintiffs proceeded to file a second complaint, Docket No. L-676-07, on February 15, 2007. That complaint also sought compensatory and other damages under theories of breach of contract, breach of the SSW, and violations of the UCC, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and the CFA.
Plaintiffs subsequently filed a second motion for reconsideration on March 28, 2007, under the docket number of their first complaint. They requested clarification as to whether "plaintiff[s] should be allowed to proceed by way of restoration of their [c]omplaint under Docket No. OCN-L-810-06 or make another reconsideration motion under that Docket No. . . . or whether plaintiffs are allowed to proceed with their new [c]omplaint (under Docket No. OCN-L-676-07)."
Meanwhile, defendant, under Docket No. L-676-07, the second complaint, filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 4:6-2(e) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant contended that the complaint had to be dismissed as barred under the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, and characterized the proceeding as frivolous litigation. Defendant also requested costs and fees pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59.1, the frivolous litigation statute.
The second motion for reconsideration filed by plaintiffs, and defendant's Rule 4:6-2(e) motion, were consolidated for purposes of oral argument and decided on May 11, 2007. The motion judge opined, first, that the motion for reconsideration should be denied because the SSW was not newly-discovered evidence. Accordingly, the initial order dismissing the first complaint with prejudice was not vacated. Secondly, the motion judge agreed with defendant that application of the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel mandated dismissal of the second complaint. He denied the request for counsel fees and costs under the frivolous litigation statute, and no cross-appeal has been filed on that point.
Motions for reconsideration must be filed within twenty days after service of the judgment or order. R. 4:49-2. The time frame cannot be relaxed. R. 1:3-4(c); Eastampton Ctr., LLC v. Planning Bd. of Eastampton, 354 N.J. Super. 171, 187 (App. Div. 2002); cf. Baumann v. Marinaro, 95 N.J. 380, 387-89 (1984) (holding that time to file a motion for new trial under Rule 4:49-1 cannot be enlarged). Accordingly, we concur with the motion judge's conclusion ...