October 7, 2010
KING TRANSCRIPTION SERVICE, LLC, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
SHAUKAT ALI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Hudson County, Docket No. SC-002890-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 27, 2010
Before Judges Grall and C.L. Miniman.
Defendant Shaukat Ali appeals from orders of the Special Civil Part denying his motion to reinstate his counterclaim and his motion for reconsideration. Because the trial court did not provide any explanation for its decisions, we reverse and remand.
King Transcription Services, LLC commenced the litigation in the Hudson County vicinage to recover the balance defendant allegedly owed for transcripts. Defendant answered asserting that he had paid in full. He also filed a counterclaim to recover damages for time he lost from work in order to respond to King's allegedly false claim.
The trial was initially scheduled for December 23, 2008, but defendant could not attend because he had already been given notice that he was to appear before another judge on the same day in a different vicinage, Union County. Consequently, defendant sought an adjournment by purportedly hand delivering a letter to the clerk of the Special Civil Part in Hudson. According to defendant, he was advised that the matter would be adjourned and rescheduled. Nonetheless, when neither defendant nor King appeared for trial on December 23, the complaint and counterclaim were dismissed.
Defendant did not receive an order or other notice of dismissal. He asserts that he learned that the matter had been dismissed when he inquired about the new trial date in August 2009, and that he promptly sought relief thereafter.
On August 24, 2009, defendant filed a motion to reinstate and requested oral argument. On September 11, the court denied that motion without the benefit of oral argument and without providing any explanation for the ruling. On October 2, 2009, defendant moved for reconsideration and requested oral argument. That motion was denied without argument on October 23. Again, no explanation for the ruling was provided. Further, when defendant filed a timely notice of appeal, the trial court did not take advantage of the opportunity to issue a written opinion, a self-corrective measure authorized by Rule 2:5-1(b).
Rule 1:7-4(a) requires the trial court to "find the facts and state its conclusions of law . . . on every motion decided by a written order that is appealable as of right." The orders at issue on this appeal ended the litigation and may be appealed as of right. R. 2:2-3(a). Thus, compliance with Rule 1:7-4(a) was required. Indeed, compliance is critical to the purpose of the rule, which is to permit "informed appellate review." Rosenberg v. Bunce, 214 N.J. Super. 300, 303 (App. Div. 1986).
The decisions on defendant's motions to reinstate pleadings and for reconsideration are committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. ASHI-GTO Assocs. v. Irvington Pediatrics, P.A., 414 N.J. Super. 351, 359 (App. Div. 2010); Cummings v. Bahr, 295 N.J. Super. 374, 384 (App. Div. 1996). We cannot affirm an exercise of discretion, however, when the trial court has not explained its reasons and, as a result, left us to speculate about the basis for its decision. See Rosenberg, supra, 214 N.J. Super. at 304. The disservice to litigants who cannot know why their motions have been denied is apparent; they should not have to file an appeal to receive an explanation for a ruling.
Because it is not clear that an exercise of our original jurisdiction would completely resolve this matter, it would be inappropriate to exercise original jurisdiction to address the merits. R. 2:10-5. Accordingly, we remand for further proceedings. We note that a request for oral argument in the Special Civil Part may be denied when a motion is not opposed, but oral argument may and should be granted when necessary for disposition of the particular motion even when it is not requested. R. 6:3-3(b)(1)-(2). At oral argument, the trial court may take testimony when necessary to resolve uncertain facts. R. 1:6-6.
Reversed and remanded for further proceedings in conformity with Rule 1:7-4(a) and Rule 6:3-3. We do not retain jurisdiction.
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