August 12, 2009
ANTHONY ROMANO, MOVANT-APPELLANT,
BAD BOYS BAIL BONDS, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, DJ-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 7, 2009
Before Judges Rodríguez and Payne.
Anthony Romano (Anthony) appeals from the June 6, 2008 order, denying his motion to vacate a Nevada default judgment against him for $143,721.79 in favor of Bad Boys Bail Bonds (BBBB). The Nevada judgment was docketed in New Jersey pursuant to the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:49A-25 to -33 (UEFJA). We affirm.
These are the salient facts. In early 2002, Anthony's son, Robert Romano, was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada. He remained in custody in Nevada until January 2004. At that time, Anthony agreed to post bail for Robert. He paid $4,000 to BBBB*fn1 to post a $100,000 bail bond for Robert and signed a Contract of Indemnity and a Security Agreement. It was explained to Anthony that if Robert did not appear, Anthony would lose the $4,000 and be liable for $100,000 plus costs to BBBB.
Anthony concedes that he executed the documents. However, he alleges that the documents were illegible. Upon the posting of the bond by BBBB, Robert was released.
In February 2006, Robert failed to appear for trial. BBBB was notified by the court. BBBB's principal, Michael Accardi, asserts that he personally called Anthony and advised him that his son had failed to appear and Anthony was liable for $100,000. Anthony denies such notice.
BBBB paid the Las Vegas District Court $100,000 for the forfeiture of the bail bond for Robert. BBBB then sent Anthony a final demand letter for $100,000 plus costs and fees.
According to BBBB, on February 19, 2007, process server Scott Brogan of J&K Investigative Services, Inc., of Somerville, personally served Anthony at his home in Toms River with a copy of the complaint filed against him in District Court, Clark County, Nevada. Brogan filed an affidavit of service with the District Court, Clark County, Nevada. Anthony denies being served.
Default judgment was entered in Clark County on behalf of BBBB and against Anthony, in the sum of $143,721.79, which included costs. The Nevada judgment against Anthony was docketed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Ocean County.
Anthony moved in the Superior Court to vacate the default judgment. At about the same time, Robert was captured in Key West, Florida. In his supporting motion papers, Anthony argued that he was denied due process for the following reasons: (1) the State of Nevada lacked personal jurisdiction over him, and (2) BBBB failed to provide him with adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard. Judge John A. Peterson, Jr., denied the motion, finding that "clearly" a showing of due process had been afforded to Anthony.
On appeal, Anthony contends that the judge "erred in finding that [Anthony] had the required minimum contacts with the State of Nevada and was thus subject to Nevada's jurisdiction." We are not persuaded.
The UEFJA, N.J.S.A. 2A:49A-25, requires that the judgment debtor be afforded due process in the forum state. Sonntag Reporting Serv. Ltd. v. Ciccarelli, 374 N.J. Super. 533, 538 (App. Div. 2005). Due process denial occurs when "the rendering state 1) lacked personal jurisdiction over the judgment debtor or, 2) lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and 3) failed to provide the judgment debtor adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard." Choi v. Kim, 50 F.3d 244, 248 (3d Cir. 1995); see also Security Benefit Life Ins. Co. v. TFS Ins. Agency, Inc., 279 N.J. Super. 419, 423 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 141 N.J. 95 (1995). Due 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.'" Int'l 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, 343, 85 L.Ed. 278, 283 (1940)).
Because this case "arises out of or relates to" Anthony's efforts to obtain the release of his son in Nevada, he "purposefully avail[ed himself] of the privilege of conducting activities within [Nevada], thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253, 78 S.Ct. 1228, 1239-40, 2 L.Ed. 2d 1283, 1298 (1958).
Here, Anthony did more than fax the documents to Nevada.
He posted bail and obtained his son's release in Nevada by means of his contracted agreement with BBBB. This was his objective. Thus, his contacts with Nevada were not minimal.
Moreover, a defendant's conduct must be "such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court" in the jurisdiction in question. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297, 100 S.Ct. 559, 567, 62 L.Ed. 2d 490, 501 (1980).
Here, Anthony concedes that he signed the bail documents. The plain language of these documents clearly evinces the possibility of litigation in Nevada to collect the balance of the bail bond if Robert failed to appear in court. Therefore, Anthony had an objectively reasonable warning that he would have to litigate in Nevada.
Anthony claims that the documents were illegible. However, he concedes signing them anyway. As a general rule, one who does not choose to read a contract before signing it cannot later avoid being bound by its terms. Gras v. Assocs. First Capital Corp., 346 N.J. Super. 42, 56 (App. Div. 2001), certif. denied, 171 N.J. 445 (2002). Moreover, "where a party affixes his signature to a written instrument . . . a conclusive presumption arises that he read, understood and assented to its terms and he will not be heard to complain that he did not comprehend the effect of his act in signing." Peter W. Kero, Inc. v. Terminal Const. Corp., 6 N.J. 361, 368 (1951).
Anthony's reliance on Pfundstein v. Omnicom Group, Inc., 285 N.J. Super. 245 (App. Div. 1995), is misplaced. In Pfundstein, we held that "[t]he 'purposeful availment' test ensures that states will only acquire specific jurisdiction over nonresident defendants when they 'should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.'" Id. at 251 (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen Corp., supra, 444 U.S. at 297, 100 S.Ct. at 567, 62 L.Ed. 2d at 501). As discussed above, the plain language of the bail documents provided Anthony with reasonable notice he might be called upon to litigate in Nevada.