On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-3394-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Chambers.
In this credit card collection case, defendant Steven Graubard appeals from the order of the trial court issued after a bench trial, entering judgment against him in the amount of $17,508. Plaintiff, Palisades Collection L.L.C., is a collection agency that allegedly acquired this account as part of a portfolio of delinquent accounts originating from Bank One Corporation.
On appeal, defendant argues that the trial court incorrectly applied the doctrine of judicial notice, as codified in N.J.R.E. 201, to determine that plaintiff had the standing to prosecute this claim and that the damages awarded were not supported by competent evidence. We agree with defendant's argument pertaining to the question of liability and reverse.
The evidence presented at trial consisted of a series of documents and the testimony of one witness Peter Fish, the Director of Litigation for Palisades Collection. We derive the following factual recitation from this evidence.
On April 29, 1999,*fn1 defendant applied for and received authorization to transfer a balance of $18,000 from another credit card to a Bank One credit card. According to Fish, defendant continued to use the Bank One credit card until May of 2003, increasing his debt to a balance of $30,543.67. A Bank One Statement dated April 25, 2003, showing defendant's name and address, reflects a payment on the account in the amount of $521.97, and an outstanding balance of $25,73343. The next payment of $514 was due on June 16, 2003.
By letter dated February 3, 2006, the law firm of Pressler and Pressler contacted defendant as plaintiff's legal representative, informing him that "the delinquent account # . . . which was previously owed to Chevy Chase Bank has been purchased by PALISADES COLLECTION, L.L.C., and has been placed with the Law Firm of Pressler and Pressler for collection." By letter dated February 6, 2006, defendant informed the Pressler Firm that he was disputing the validity of the claim because, to his knowledge, he had "never been granted credit by the original creditor named in your notification."
On May 5, 2006, plaintiff filed suit against defendant alleging that it was "the owner of the defendant's CHEVY CHASE VISA account . . . ." The suit demanded judgment in the amount of $30,543.67. Defendant filed an answer and counterclaim grounded on the Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 to -20, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.A. 1692k(a)(1)(2)(3). After engaging in motion practice, the court dismissed defendant's counterclaim on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.
At the commencement of the bench trial, plaintiff's counsel moved, pursuant to N.J.R.E. 201(d), to admit into evidence a New York Times article he personally retrieved from the archives of that newspaper. The article produced in court was a print copy of the electronic version. It was offered to establish that on September 3, 1998, First U.S.A., a unit of Bank One Corporation, "had bought the credit card operations of Chevy Chase Bank F.S.B."
Counsel for plaintiff further moved to admit into evidence a print version of a page from the website of Wikipedia, a company which markets itself as an electronic encyclopedia. Plaintiff offered this to establish that Bank One Corporation was purchased by J.P. Morgan & Company in 2004. Against this backdrop, counsel represented to the trial judge that J.P. Morgan sold the accounts, (including defendant's account) to his client Palisades Acquisition.
Over defense counsel's objections, the trial court granted plaintiff's motions, admitting into evidence the New York Times article and the page from Wikipedia. In support of his ruling, the trial judge took judicial notice that "banks are frequently purchased." After reviewing the two articles, the judge also took judicial notice that "ultimately defendant's account landed at J.P. Morgan . . . [and] was assigned or sold to Palisades Assets."
Immediately after these rulings, plaintiff introduced, again over defendant's objection, a ...