On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket Nos. L-3913-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff, Fisher and Baxter.
In these consolidated condemnation and quiet title actions, we consider whether the misfiling of a deed, which prevented a condemnor from learning that the property in question had been sold, and consequently prevented the condemnor from giving the owner notice of the condemnation proceeding, entitled the owner of the property to an order vacating the declaration of taking; or whether instead, the owner's remedy is limited to its opportunity to participate in the commissioners' fair value hearing. We conclude that the trial judge erred when she concluded that the actual taking must be vacated, and reverse.
The property that is the subject of this appeal, known as Block 420, Lot 2 on the tax map of Atlantic City, is located at 640 Lexington Avenue. Defendant Richard Angueira conveyed the property to his mother, defendant Gloria Roman, in December 2003 for the sum of $85,000. Roman secured a purchase money mortgage of $76,500*fn1 from Countrywide Financial Corporation (Countrywide).*fn2 The deed and mortgage were recorded on January 26, 2004; however, because Angueira's name was misspelled as "Anguiera" throughout the deed of conveyance, both the mortgage and the deed were misindexed. The Clerk's Office misindexed the deed under yet a third spelling of Angueira, namely "Anguirea."
As part of a redevelopment project, plaintiff Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), sought to acquire all of the property in Blocks 420 and 421 in the City of Atlantic City, by condemnation if necessary.*fn3
Consequently, on January 28, 2003, the CRDA undertook a title search of the property in question, which revealed the property to be titled in Angueira's name, which was correct, because Angueira did not sell the property to his mother until December 2003, which was eleven months later.
On September 30, 2003, while Angueira was still the owner of the property, CRDA mailed him, by both regular and certified mail, an offer to purchase the property for the sum of $9,250, in keeping with an appraisal CRDA had obtained.*fn4 The property, at the time, consisted of a small lot with a boarded-up row home. CRDA sent its offer to purchase to Angueira at 129 N. Pennsylvania Avenue in Atlantic City, which was the address listed for him when he took title to the property in 2002. The letter CRDA sent to Angueira by certified mail was returned to CRDA by the postal service as unclaimed after two notices to Angueira yielded no response. The offer sent to Angueira by regular mail was not returned.
More than a year later, on December 8, 2004, after receiving no response from Angueira to its offer to purchase, CRDA instituted a condemnation action in which it identified Angueira as owner of the property, which was incorrect because he had sold the property to his mother a year earlier. It is undisputed that CRDA did not conduct an additional title search prior to filing its condemnation complaint on December 8, 2004. Neither Roman nor Countrywide were named as defendants.
On January 7, 2005, CRDA recorded the required declaration of taking in the Atlantic County Clerk's Office and deposited the estimated fair market value of the property with the Clerk of the Superior Court. The declaration of taking identified Angueira as the owner of the property. Simultaneously, CRDA duly recorded a notice of lis pendens in the Atlantic County Clerk's Office.*fn5
CRDA's condemnation complaint alleged, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 20:3-6, that "CRDA ha[d] attempted, but ha[d] been unable, to acquire the property through bona fide negotiations with the owner," whom it identified as Angueira. The court set January 14, 2005 as the return date of the order to show cause on the CRDA's condemnation complaint.*fn6 On January 10, 2005, four days before that return date, CRDA conducted a second title search of the property. However, because of the misindexing of the Angueira to Roman deed, the CRDA title search failed to disclose Roman's ownership of the property. On the return date, although he had been served with notice of the hearing, Angueira failed to appear and failed to notify CRDA that he no longer owned the property.
The January 14, 2005 hearing proceeded as an uncontested matter. The January 19, 2005 order permitted CRDA to acquire the property, and appointed three residents of Atlantic City to serve as commissioners to determine just compensation, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 20:3-12. A few weeks later, on January 24, 2005, CRDA turned off all utilities, and in April 2005, CRDA demolished the structure located on the property.
On October 28, 2005, the commissioners sent Angueira a letter advising him that the commissioners' fair value hearing was scheduled for November 22, 2005, and notifying him that if he failed to appear at the hearing, personally or through counsel, he would be foreclosed from appealing the commissioners' fair value determination. The October 28, 2005 notice of hearing was sent to Angueira at the same address, 129 N. Pennsylvania Avenue in Atlantic City, to which CRDA had sent its September 30, 2003 offer to purchase, its December 8, 2004 condemnation complaint, and its January 7, 2005 declaration of taking. On November 4, 2005, shortly after receiving the ...