February 24, 2010
DAWN CHASE AND MICHAEL RANDOLPH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
BLAZE BAIL BONDS, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Special Civil part, Middlesex County, Docket No. DC-022091-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 3, 2010
Before Judges Cuff and Waugh.
Plaintiffs Dawn Chase and Michael Randolph appeal the dismissal of their complaint against defendant Blaze Bail Bonds (Blaze) at the conclusion of their presentation of evidence. We affirm.
The facts can be summarized as follows. Randolph was arrested and placed in the Essex County Jail on Thursday, June 12, 2008. Chase, his fiancée, approached a bail bond company known as One Way Out (One Way), seeking to procure a bail bond for Randolph's release. On Friday, June 13, One Way approved her application and charged $2,080 against her credit card. For reasons not explained in the record, the charge was credited to Blaze, rather than One Way.
Early the following week, and prior to the posting of any bond by One Way, the Criminal Part judge reduced Randolph's bail. Chase decided to post the reduced bail herself. Randolph was released on Wednesday, June 18. After considerable effort on Randolph's part and great reluctance on the part of Blaze, the $2,080 was returned after approximately five or six weeks.
Chase and Randolph filed suit against Blaze only in the Middlesex County Special Civil Part, seeking damages for the delay in the return of the amount charged to Chase's credit card and delay in the posting of the bond for Randolph. The matter came to trial on January 29, 2009, at which time all parties were represented by counsel. After plaintiffs rested, Blaze moved for "summary judgment." Although the applicable standard is essentially the same, the proper motion was one for involuntary dismissal pursuant to Rule 4:37-2(b).
In granting the motion, the trial judge noted that plaintiffs had not joined One Way as a party, had not explained the relationship between One Way and Blaze, and had not introduced any evidence as to what actions were required of either in accordance with industry standards.
So whatever their relationship is, One Way Out... with the defendant Blaze is totally unknown. We have no idea. We don't know whether Blaze was just a surety which would pay if the defendant were bailed out and didn't show up for arraignment or trial, or whether they were going to do the actual physical arrangements for the release. We don't have any idea because we don't know what the, what the agreement was between [One Way] who had all the dealings with Miss Chase and Blaze, the defendant. We have no idea. And, therefore, we don't know whether this defendant did anything wrong. It depends really on exactly what was said, what's the, what's the standard in the industry, and what relationship they had to [One Way]. She might have a cause, have had a cause of action against [One Way] had they been sued and they might have brought in this defendant, but a direct suit against this defendant with no evidence that they have even an obligation to take the steps to bail the plaintiff Mr. Randolph out. It gives rise to no cause of action, no privity of contract between Miss Chase and the defendant Blaze. Her only contract was with [One Way], number one, and, number two, even if it had been, I'm not sure there's even any damages here.
The plaintiff had his bail reduced less than seventy-two hours he was placed in jail, and the plaintiff's fiancé saved $2,080. But even, but regardless of that, there is no privity of contract with this defendant and, therefore, the Complaint is dismissed.
On this appeal, we apply the same standard as the trial judge. Luczak v. Twp. of Evesham, 311 N.J. Super. 103, 108 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 156 N.J. 407 (1998). Rule 4:37- 2(b) provides that, whether the case is tried with or without a jury, a motion for involuntary dismissal "shall be denied if the evidence, together with the legitimate inferences therefrom, could sustain a judgment in plaintiff's favor." In Dolson v. Anastasia, 55 N.J. 2, 5-6 (1969) (citations omitted), the Supreme Court described the judicial role as follows:
In the case of motions for involuntary dismissal, the test is, as set forth in R. 4:37-2(b) and equally applicable to motions for judgment, whether "the evidence, together with the legitimate inferences therefrom, could sustain a judgment in... favor" of the party opposing the motion, i.e., if, accepting as true all the evidence which supports the position of the party defending against the motion and according him the benefit of all inferences which can reasonably and legitimately be deduced therefrom, reasonable minds could differ, the motion must be denied. The point is that the judicial function here is quite a mechanical one. The trial court is not concerned with the worth, nature or extent (beyond a scintilla) of the evidence, but only with its existence, viewed most favorably to the party opposing the motion.
More recently, the Court held that "[a] motion for involuntary dismissal only should be granted where no rational juror could conclude that the plaintiff marshaled sufficient evidence to satisfy each prima facie element of a cause of action." Godfrey v. Princeton Theological Seminary, 196 N.J. 178, 197 (2008).
Having reviewed the record, we agree with the trial judge. Chase entered into a contractual relationship with One Way, which was not a party to their suit. The trial record is silent with respect to the nature of the relationship between One Way and Blaze. Plaintiffs never established that Blaze owed any duty to either of them. As plaintiffs, Chase and Randolph had the burden of proof to present the trier of fact with a factual basis for a finding of liability with respect to Blaze. They simply failed to do so.
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