December 23, 2009
IN RE APPLICATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY FOR FORFEITURE (OF PROPERTY OF VINCENT MORRIS)
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, L-8814-01.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued December 14, 2009
Before Judges Reisner and Chambers.
Defendant Vincent Morris appeals from a May 1, 2009 order denying his motion to vacate the 2003 settlement of a forfeiture action. We affirm.
In 2003, defendant was convicted of criminal usury, N.J.S.A. 2C:21-19a, and was sentenced to six years in prison.*fn1
In addition to the criminal prosecution, the State filed a complaint seeking forfeiture of large amounts of cash seized from Morris, plus a Mercedes Benz automobile. See N.J.S.A. 2C:64-1 to -9. Following his criminal conviction, Morris, who was represented by counsel, reached a settlement with the State on the civil forfeiture case. Under the settlement, the State was to retain $40,000 representing the value of the automobile, plus $1248 in seized cash. The State would return the car and $210,000 to defendant.
When the State delayed in implementing the settlement, defendant through his attorney filed a motion to enforce the settlement. Notably, the motion papers characterized the $40,000 as "the value of the car." The trial court granted the motion by order dated October 16, 2003, and the State duly returned the car and the $210,000. On March 23, 2009, nearly six years after entry of the order granting his motion to enforce the settlement, Morris filed a motion seeking to void the settlement.
In a certification supporting his motion, Morris claimed that when the settlement was negotiated, he did not realize that the $40,000 forfeiture amount was based on the value of the Mercedes automobile. He contended that, had he known this, he would never have agreed to the settlement because, allegedly, the car was only worth about $23,000. Based on these facts he contended that the settlement was the product of mutual mistake.
In a written statement of reasons dated May 18, 2009, Judge Donohue rejected defendant's contention, noting that defendant had earlier moved to enforce the settlement and had obtained all of its benefits including the car and the money. He also reasoned that
[t]he State no longer has possession of any of the assets involved in the forfeiture action, and it is likely that the Mercedes Benz has been sold by Vincent and [his wife]. In the unlikely event that Mr. Morris still has possession of the vehicle, the depreciation of that vehicle based upon the mileage and use would be significant.
The judge further concluded that other than defendant's bald assertion, there was "no evidence to support the theory of mutual mistake," citing Jennings v. Reed, 381 N.J. Super. 217 (App. Div. 2005).
On this appeal, defendant again asserts that the settlement was a product of mutual mistake. The State contends that the motion is untimely under Rule 4:50-2 and meets none of the standards set forth in Rule 4:50-1 for vacating a civil judgment. We agree. Plaintiff's appellate contentions are without sufficient merit to warrant further discussion here, R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E), and we affirm substantially for the reasons stated in Judge Donohue's opinion.