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Sciorra v. Slater

December 10, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-2852-07.

Per curiam.


Argued August 5, 2008

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Baxter.

Defendant appeals from the July 20, 2007 order entered by the Family Part: (1) approving the contract for sale of property owned by defendant; (2) requiring defendant's removal from the property; (3) awarding counsel fees to the receiver, Mary Tom (Tom), Esq.; and (4) specifying measures to enforce provisions of the order. We affirm.

The order arises out of a palimony action commenced against Slater by his former paramour, plaintiff Janet Sciorra. Sciorra claimed that in 1985, she and Slater "mutually agreed to cohabit with the intent to conduct and maintain their personal and financial lives in a family-type shared-living arrangement[]" and continued this relationship, during which they held themselves out as husband and wife and conducted all of their affairs under the guise of this shared relationship, for the next thirteen years.

In 2003, Sciorra filed a verified complaint for palimony, distribution of assets, partition, and other equitable relief against defendant. The matter was venued in Passaic County. Following the completion of discovery, the matter proceeded to trial before Judge John E. Selser. On June 4, 2004, the judge entered judgment in favor of plaintiff, which included a palimony award of $266,800. Defendant never appealed from the entry of this judgment.

Plaintiff thereafter attempted to collect the judgment and obtained several levies against defendant and also instituted enforcement proceedings. Because defendant did not cooperate, the court entered an order on April 3, 2006 appointing Tom as a receiver on behalf of defendant. The order directed Tom to "marshal together and sequester all assets, property and businesses of [defendant] to pay the amounts previously ordered by this court." The order also provided that Tom's fees as receiver "shall be paid from the assets of [defendant] so marshaled and sequestered by Ms. Tom, on further application to the court."

On October 6, 2006, the receiver filed a motion seeking an order transferring title to property owned by defendant, located at 355-359 Warwick Turnpike in Hewitt (the property), for the purpose of allowing the sale of the property. Defendant opposed the motion and also cross-moved to overturn all prior orders entered by the court. On December 6, 2006, the court entered an order approving the transfer of title to the property to Tom and also awarding counsel fees and costs to Tom. Defendant's cross-motion was denied in its entirety.

Thereafter, Tom filed a motion returnable May 25, 2007 seeking (1) court approval of the contract for the sale of the property free and clear of liens so that good title could be transferred to the purchasers, (2) the removal of defendant from the property, and (3) an award of counsel fees and costs to the receiver. Defendant filed opposition to the motion. On June 8, 2007, the court, sua sponte, transferred the matter to Bergen County after defendant filed a tort claims notice against various Passaic County judges. Prior to oral argument on the motion, defendant filed a second cross-motion seeking a stay of all proceedings pending the Attorney General's investigation into the allegations raised in his tort claims notice. The court denied this relief, and oral argument was conducted on July 20, 2007.

At oral argument, Tom advised the court that there was a contract for sale of the property at its appraised value, but the sale was conditioned upon court approval and defendant's removal from the property. Tom also represented to the court that there were outstanding judgments against the property that exceeded the sale price for the property. She requested that the court permit her to place the proceeds from the sale of the property into her trust account and that she would thereafter "determine the priority of the creditors, come back to this court, and we'll distribute once we figure out how much money we actually have so that the buyers can get clear title to the property."

Defendant appeared pro se and essentially presented the history of his relationship with plaintiff that he believed was relevant to the events leading up to the commencement of the palimony action. He argued that he was entitled to a credit against the judgment for the $1,200 weekly receipts plaintiff received from the operation of their motel business. He also argued that the "palimony [judgment] was controlled by Chapter 4 of the [bankruptcy code]." He claimed the palimony action was barred by the statute of limitations. Finally, defendant urged that plaintiff had unclean hands.

The court entered its decision orally from the bench immediately following oral argument. The court stated:

Ms. Tom is now coming before the Court for that approval which was delineated in [Judge] Selser's order of December 6th. That's the sole application before this Court. Mr. Slater opposes the approval of the sale for reasons -- many, many reasons having to do with the history of this matter in bankruptcy court, in ...

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