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Mountain City Hardwoods Flooring, Inc. v. Rojas

February 3, 2009

MOUNTAIN CITY HARDWOODS FLOORING, INC., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ERMA ROJAS, D/B/A A.A. ALLIANCE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, DJ-186955-05.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 24, 2008

Decided Amended Opinion*fn1 December 31, 2008

Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez and Payne.

Defendant, Erma Rojas, d/b/a A.A. Alliance,*fn2 appeals from the denial of her motion to vacate a default judgment in the amount of $36,583.40 initially entered by the Law Court of Johnson County at Mountain City, Tennessee and domesticated in New Jersey pursuant to the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UEFJA), N.J.S.A. 2A:49-25 to -33. On appeal Rojas argues, as she argued unsuccessfully in the trial court, that the Tennessee court lacked personal jurisdiction over her and A.A. Alliance, and as a result, the Tennessee judgment should not be recognized by New Jersey's courts. We disagree and affirm.

The facts of the matter follow. Mountain City Hardwoods Flooring, Inc. is a flooring supplier with its principal place of business in Tennessee. Rojas, the principal of A.A. Alliance, sells flooring to various persons and entities from her place of business in Asbury Park, New Jersey. As the result of a sales call by Mountain City salesperson John Hess upon Rojas in Asbury Park in or around February 2002, Rojas became a customer of Mountain City, purchasing hardwood flooring from Mountain City on at least twenty-seven occasions between February 4, 2002 and October 17, 2002. Rojas has stated in a certification that all orders were placed through Hess. A certification submitted on behalf of Mountain City by Credit Manager Joseph Savery states that after the first sales call by Hess upon Rojas in New Jersey, "John Hess called Erma Rojas from Pennsylvania and Mountain City, Tennessee." As the result of purchases by Rojas, stock hardwood flooring was shipped by truck from Tennessee to Asbury Park and Neptune, New Jersey. Additionally, invoices, generated in Tennessee, were mailed to New Jersey, and payments in the form of checks, credit card transactions or wire transfers were made by Rojas to Mountain City at its Tennessee location. Because Rojas was slow in making payments, additional correspondence and telephone calls between the parties regarding those payments also occurred. However, Rojas never traveled to Tennessee, and she had no physical contact with that state.

According to Mountain City, Rojas failed to pay an invoice in the amount of $34,190.10 for Load # 639, shipped on September 11, 2002 and delivered to New Jersey on the following day. Mountain City instituted a collection action in Tennessee, and on July 6, 2004, a default judgment in the amount of $36,583.40 was entered by a judge of the Law Court of Johnson County at Mountain City, Tennessee. On July 21, 2005, Mountain City docketed the Tennessee judgment in Mercer County, New Jersey, providing notice of its action to Rojas. On September 13, 2005, Rojas and A.A. Alliance moved before the Superior Court to vacate the foreign judgment pursuant to Rule 4:50-1 on the grounds of lack of in personam jurisdiction and prior payment of the amount allegedly due. The matter was at some point transferred to Monmouth County, and a hearing was scheduled in that County for February 3, 2006. Any order resulting from that motion has been lost. However, it appears that the determination was, in some manner, adverse to the position of Rojas and A.A. Alliance.

While Rojas and A.A. Alliance were mounting their attack on the judgment, collection efforts continued. Mountain City served an information subpoena upon Rojas and, when she failed to respond, it obtained an order to enforce litigant's rights, which was served on Rojas on or about December 9, 2005. Thereafter, Mountain City levied on an account maintained by Rojas or A.A. Alliance*fn3 with the Bank of America, obtaining a turn-over order on December 16, 2005, which was served on the parties and the bank on August 24, 2006 after the motion to vacate the judgment had been resolved. It appears that $26,992.84 was turned over to Mountain City as a result.*fn4

On May 4, 2007, Rojas and A.A. Alliance moved for an order "to vacate the Foreign Default Judgment; to Stay the Execution; and for Reconsideration of the Court's Prior Decision." The motion was heard on September 7, 2007 and denied on the ground that jurisdiction in Tennessee existed because, by placing orders for flooring by fax or telephone, directed to Tennessee, A.A. Alliance purposely availed itself of the privilege of conducting business in Tennessee. This appeal followed.

We recently held in State of Maine v. SeKap, S.A. Greek Coop. Cigarette Mfg. Co., S.A., 392 N.J. Super. 227 (App. Div. 2007), in the context of an attack on a judgment domesticated in New Jersey pursuant to the UEFJA, the Constitutional requirements of the Full Faith and Credit Clause are predicated upon the judgment debtor having been accorded due process in the forum state. [Sonntag Reporting Serv. Ltd. v. Ciccarelli, 374 N.J. Super. 533,] 538 [(App. Div. 2005)]. A denial of due process occurs "when 'the rendering state 1) lacked personal jurisdiction over the judgment debtor, 2) lacked subject matter jurisdiction, [or] 3) failed to provide the judgment debtor adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard.'" Ibid. (quoting Choi v. Kim, 50 F.3d 244, 248 (3d Cir. 1995)). [Maine v. SeKap, supra, 392 N.J. Super. at 235.]

As a consequence, we find that the due process defense of lack of in personam jurisdiction has been properly presented in this New Jersey matter as grounds for voiding the judgment.

"[D]ue process requires only that in order to subject a defendant to a judgment in personam, if he be not present within the territory of the forum, he have certain minimum contacts with it such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95, 102 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S.Ct. 339, 342, 85 L.Ed. 278, 283 (1940)). Because Rojas had no "continuous and systematic" contacts with Tennessee, principles of general jurisdiction are inapplicable to this case. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 416, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 1873, 80 L.Ed. 2d 404, 412 (1984). Rather, if jurisdiction is to be found, it must be based upon specific jurisdiction. In such case, the jurisdictional inquiry must focus on "the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation." Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 204, 97 S.Ct. 2569, 2579, 53 L.Ed. 2d 683, 698 (1977). Pursuant to that analysis, the "minimum contacts" requirement can be deemed satisfied only if the contacts resulted from defendant's purposeful conduct and not plaintiff's unilateral activities. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297-98, 100 S.Ct. 559, 567-68, 62 L.Ed. 2d 490, 501-02 (1980).

In the present case, any breach of contract by Rojas or A.A. Alliance undoubtedly caused injury to Mountain City in Tennessee. However, the United States Supreme Court ...


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