December 15, 2009
BHUPINDER SINGH, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT, AND PARESH MUNSHI T/A SHRINATHJI ENTERPRISES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
JAGDISH SIDANA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, DJ-243929-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued November 30, 2009
Before Judges Reisner and Chambers.
Defendant Jagdish Sidana appeals from trial court orders dated July 16, 2007 and October 19, 2007 enforcing a domesticated California judgment and denying reconsideration.*fn1 We affirm.
In an action for breach of contract, plaintiff Bhupinder Singh obtained a $102,423 default judgment against defendant Sidana in California in 1993. In a reported opinion, we previously affirmed a 2003 order permitting plaintiff to domesticate the judgment in New Jersey. Singh v. Sidana, 387 N.J. Super. 380 (App. Div. 2006), certif. denied, 189 N.J. 428 (2007). In our opinion, we held that the California judgment could be enforced under New Jersey's twenty-year time limit for enforcing judgments, so long as the enforcement action was filed here within the ten-year California time limit. In other words, so long as it was still a viable California judgment when the action was filed here, it could be enforced. We noted that was also the law in California with respect to domesticating foreign judgments in California courts. Id. at 385.
In the next phase of the case, i.e., the proceeding which gave rise to this appeal, Sidana sought to enjoin enforcement of the domesticated judgment, on the ground of alleged newly discovered evidence, in the form of a witness who would testify that Sidana was "a non-party to the breach."
Judge Mathias Rodriguez held that the judgment was entitled to full faith and credit in the courts of this State, and Sidana would have to raise any defenses to the underlying judgment in the California courts. At oral argument on this appeal, Sidana's attorney admitted that Sidana had never filed such an application in California. Rather, he contended that, relying on advice from a California attorney, Sidana assumed that the California courts would not entertain an application to vacate an expired California judgment, even if the judgment was enforceable in New Jersey. In his oral opinion of July 16, 2007, Judge Rodriguez also concluded that plaintiff personally served defendant with the complaint in California, an issue defendant has not briefed on this appeal.*fn2
In his appellate brief, Sidana presents two points for our consideration:
POINT I: THE FULL FAITH AND CREDIT CLAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DOES NOT BAR THE GRANTING OF RELIEF TO COAPPELLANTS IN THIS STATE UNDER R. 4:50-1 WHEN RELIEF IN THE RENDERING STATE OF CALIFORNIA IS TIME BARRED.
POINT II: IN THE DEMONSTRATED ABSENCE OF AN EXPRESS AGREEMENT BY DEFENDANT-JUDGMENT DEBTOR-APPELLANT JAGDISH SIDANA TO BE OBLIGATED TO PLAINTIFF-JUDGMENT CREDITOR-RESPONDENT BHUPINDER SINGH OR HIS ASSIGNOR, ANY CONTINUED COLLECTION ACTIVITY VIOLATES THE FEDERAL FAIR DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES ACT.
In his first point, Sidana contends that because he has now obtained newly discovered evidence concerning the underlying merits of the contract claim, he should be able to present this evidence in New Jersey's courts because he cannot "secure relief in the rendering State of California." In that connection, he also argues that suing him for breach of contract when he was not a party to the contract renders the resulting judgment "fraudulent" for purposes of avoiding the bar of the Full Faith and Credit Clause. In his second point, Sidana contends that plaintiff's collection efforts violate the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692f. This argument was not briefed in the trial court.
Having reviewed the record, we conclude that defendant's appellate contentions are entirely without merit and warrant no discussion, beyond the following comments. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). First, his defense to the judgment does not sound in extrinsic fraud. See Puzio v. Puzio, 57 N.J. Super. 557, 570-71 (App. Div. 1959), certif. denied, 32 N.J. 356 (1960); Zelek v. Brosseau, 47 N.J. Super. 521, 531-32 (App. Div. 1957), aff'd o.b., 26 N.J. 501 (1958). By denying that he was a party to the underlying contract, defendant simply raises a factual challenge to plaintiff's legal right to sue him for the debt. That defense does not defeat plaintiff's right to have the courts of this State accord full faith and credit to the California judgment. See Sonntag Reporting Serv., Ltd. v. Ciccarelli, 374 N.J. Super. 533, 539-40 (App. Div. 2005).
Further, plaintiff did not need a "newly discovered" witness to raise this defense while the California judgment was still viable in that state. If his claim is true, Sidana was always aware of the facts he now alleges - that he was not a party to the contract on which the judgment was based. Finally, Sidana has not presented any legally competent evidence that under the circumstances of this case, a California court would not entertain an action to re-open the judgment. In fact, he admits he has not even sought such relief in the California courts.