On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-1257-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 11, 2009
Before Judges Stern, Rodríguez and Payne.
Plaintiff, Richard DeMarco, appeals from a final judgment of February 29, 2008, denying his "motion to enforce" a prior order of November 16, 2007. The judgment also required plaintiff "to pay any reasonable costs associated with the impoundment and storage" of the car he had purchased, and denied his motion to vacate the dismissal of his complaint. The November 16, 2007, order had required defendant Township of Piscataway to "turn over" the subject vehicle to plaintiff "without any costs or further requirements." The vehicle had been impounded because a record check, following a random motor vehicle stop, revealed no registration and title. It has been in storage since September 22, 2006.
Plaintiff contends that the November 2007 order for release of the vehicle should be enforced, that the towing company had no right to retain the vehicle or obligate the vehicle owner, and that the fee it sought is inconsistent with the governing ordinance and cannot be enforced in this proceeding against the Township. Plaintiff seeks to avoid paying storage fees after October 5, 2006, when the owner first endeavored to obtain release of the car.*fn1
There is no dispute about the propriety of the impoundment as the vehicle was not registered and had no insurance when a mobile data terminal (MDT) check was performed.
On September 22, 2006, the Piscataway Township Police Department impounded the 2002 Nissan Silva vehicle that was being driven by Bhavin A. Patel, after he failed to produce valid insurance and motor vehicle registration cards. In addition, the vehicle did not have a vehicle identification number (VIN) and had a license plate that was not on record with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). The vehicle was removed from the roadway and stored by Gemini Towing, an operator licensed by Piscataway Township.*fn2
On October 5, 2006, Mr. Patel produced a "Bill of Sale" indicating that the vehicle was ... a RHD (right hand drive) Japanese spec SILVA. Not 240SX in United States. This Unit is for exhibition/demonstration purpose only. It should not be driven on public, private, or off-road highways.
Attached to the Bill of Sale was a document written entirely in Japanese that purportedly was the title of ownership for the vehicle. Upon presentation of these documents, the Piscataway Police Department refused to release the impounded vehicle and informed Patel that he would need to acquire a proper certificate of ownership issued by the MVC.
On January 2, 2007, plaintiff sent to the Piscataway Police Department an insurance identification card, a copy of a Bill of Sale and Assignment of Claim transferring interest in the vehicle from Mr. Patel to the plaintiff, along with a "notice of intent and demand for release" of the vehicle. On January 9, 2007, the Township responded by letter, again advising plaintiff that he needed to obtain the proper certificate of ownership issued by the MVC in order to reclaim the vehicle.
On January 10, 2007, plaintiff filed a Verified Complaint and Order to Show Cause seeking the "immediate release" of the vehicle to him, and fixing the cost of storage to the time period between the initial impoundment of the vehicle and Patel's attempt to retrieve it on October 5, 2006. On April 5, 2007, the Law Division denied relief, and "recommended" to plaintiff, who was pro se at that time, to "add Gemini Towing as a party inasmuch as there was an issue concerning the payment of towing and storage fees being charged by the towing company."
On October 25, 2007, plaintiff filed another motion for the release of the vehicle after obtaining a certificate of ownership from the MVC. Defendant Township responded to the court that it did not object to the release of the vehicle upon ...