On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-2340-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Rodríguez and Reisner.
Defendant Laurie Anton appeals from the denial of her motion seeking relief from the July 10, 2008 judgment of divorce, which incorporated a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA). Laurie moved pursuant to Rule 4:50-1, alleging that plaintiff Bruce N. Anton did not disclose certain marital information, specifically that on August 29, 2005, Bruce sold the assets of Robison-Anton Textiles (Robison-Anton) and related entities for approximately $13 million and did not disclose this information in the PSA. Thus, the PSA was fraudulent. We affirm.
These are the salient facts. The parties were divorced on July 10, 2008, after twenty-seven years of marriage. They retained separate attorneys, but agreed to jointly retain the services of Hubert Klein, C.P.A. of Ampler, Politziner & Mattia, P.C. to conduct the forensic analysis of the marital assets. Laurie eventually obtained independent appraisals of Bruce's commercial properties.
On April 15, 2008, the parties entered into the PSA. Bruce was required to pay Laurie approximately $4.5 million in liquid assets. The PSA was incorporated into the judgment of divorce.
Thereafter, Laurie hired Valerie D. Solimano, Esq. to review the PSA. Solimano advised Laurie to employ the services of a certified public accountant. Laurie hired C. John Miliotis, C.P.A. and he reviewed the files of Laurie's prior counsel, Mitchell S. Arons, Esq. and Klein. Miliotis's review revealed that documents pertaining to the location of the Robison-Anton sale proceeds were absent. Miliotis "reconstructed" the proceeds from the sale. This disclosed that $3,939,535 in liquid assets was unaccounted for in the PSA.
Almost one year after the entry of the judgment, Laurie moved seeking relief from the judgment, or alternatively, limited discovery and a plenary hearing. Bruce opposed the motion and filed a cross-motion requesting the denial of Laurie's motion. Laurie filed an opposition to Bruce's cross-motion.
Laurie submitted certifications from Solimano, Miliotis and herself. These certifications alleged that their discussions with Klein revealed that Bruce's counsel limited the scope of his review of the marital assets and Klein did not trace the assets derived from the sale of Robison-Anton. However, Klein submitted a certification denying such conversations and stipulated that he traced the proceeds from the Robison-Anton sale and was satisfied that all the proceeds were located. Laurie certified that she did not choose Arons herself. Instead, Bruce presented her with a list of attorneys and she selected Arons from that list.
Laurie alleged that she was under "extreme stress" and felt pressured to resolve the property settlement pursuant to Bruce's schedule. Laurie's emotional state caused her to rely on Arons, who in turn relied on the truth and accuracy of Bruce's disclosures. Laurie indicates that Arons was not provided with "any schedule of assets" until ten or eleven days prior to the meeting to discuss the property settlement. Consequently, Laurie alleges that she was "pressured" to accept the PSA settlement, which was "incomplete" and agreed to the settlement under stress and duress following a thirteen hour meeting.
Laurie argued that the overreaching of Bruce is demonstrated by a provision in the PSA. In particular, the provision provides: the parties shall file joint federal and state tax returns for calendar year 2007.
The wife shall cooperate with respect to the preparation and signing of said joint tax returns prepared by the parties' accountant, Konisgsburg, Wolf, & Co., P.C. If the wife does not cooperate with respect to the signing of the aforesaid tax returns, then the husband shall have the right to sign the wife's name on the aforesaid tax returns, as well as on any and all refunds received in connection with the aforesaid tax returns.
The marital assets shall be used to pay the taxes due and owing in the calendar year 2007 tax returns. Any net refund received in connection with the calendar year 2007 tax ...