On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Essex County, Docket No. F-26869-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher and Fasciale.
In this foreclosure case, defendants Emilio and Maryse Guillaume -- husband and wife -- appeal from an August 30, 2010 order denying their motion to vacate default judgment. The Guillaumes defaulted on their mortgage payments, unsuccessfully sought a loan modification, and have lived in their home -- rent free -- for the last three years. They attempted to rescind their loan and vacate default judgment on the eve of the sheriff's sale. The Guillaumes failed to demonstrate a basis to vacate default, and have not shown they are entitled to rescission. We affirm.
The Guillaumes borrowed $210,000 from the mortgagee for the purchase of a residential home, and America's Servicing Company (ASC) serviced the loan.*fn1 In April 2008, Maryse Guillaume contacted a housing counselor at Tri City Peoples Corporation because the Guillaumes fell behind on their payments. On April 1, 2008, they defaulted on the loan.
On May 18, 2008, ASC forwarded to the Guillaumes a Notice of Intent to Foreclose (NOI) that urged them to "immediately seek the advice of an attorney(s) of your own choosing concerning this residential mortgage default." The Guillaumes did not seek the advice of counsel but continued to attempt a loan modification with ASC unsuccessfully.
On July 15, 2008, plaintiff filed its foreclosure complaint. The Guillaumes were personally served with the complaint and failed to respond. On August 26, 2008, the court entered default. Plaintiff provided to the Guillaumes the appropriate notice of entry of default pursuant to the Fair Foreclosure Act (FFA), N.J.S.A. 2A:50-56c. On May 6, 2009, plaintiff obtained default judgment.
The Guillaumes moved to vacate default judgment pursuant to Rule 4:50-1(a) and (f), and contended that they were entitled to rescind the loan. The judge stayed the sale, conducted oral argument on two separate days, and denied the Guillaumes' application in its entirety. The court then stayed the sheriff's sale pending this appeal.
On appeal, the Guillaumes argue that the judge erred by denying their motion to vacate default judgment because (1) under Rule 4:50-1(a) they demonstrated a meritorious defense and have shown excusable neglect, and (2) under Rule 4:50-1(f) they have shown exceptional circumstances because the court failed to apply the rules of court properly, thereby depriving them of their constitutional rights.
[I]s a carefully crafted vehicle intended to underscore the need for repose while achieving a just result. It thus denominates with specificity the narrow band of triggering events that will warrant relief from judgment if justice is to be served.
Only the existence of one of those triggers will allow a party to challenge the substance of the judgment. [DEG LLC v. Fairfield Twp., 198 N.J. 242, 261-62 (2009).]
A motion for relief from judgment under Rule 4:50-1 should be granted sparingly. When reviewing such motions we generally defer to the broad discretion afforded to the trial judge, whose determinations should be left undisturbed unless they result from a clear abuse of discretion. Morristown Hous. Auth. v. Little, 135 N.J. 274, 283 (1994); St. James AME Dev. v. Jersey City, 403 N.J. Super. 480, 487 (App. Div. 2008); Del Vecchio v. Hemberger, 388 N.J. Super. 179, 186-87 (App. Div. 2006). "[A]lthough the ordinary 'abuse of discretion' standard defies precise definition, it arises when a decision is 'made without a rational explanation, inexplicably departed from established policies, or rested on an ...