On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-1621-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and Hayden.
Richard Huykman appeals from an order entered June 26, 2009 awarding sanctions against him for frivolous litigation and the order denying his motion to reconsider entered August 29, 2009. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we reverse.
This matter has a convoluted factual and procedural history that has been set forth in detail in prior cases before this court. See Sacco v. Maziarz, No. A-1148-08 (App. Div. March 11, 2010)(slip op. at 2-7). For purposes of this decision we find the following relevant. In 1992 Huykman sued brothers Gregory Sacco and Richard W. Sacco on a claim relating to ownership of a race horse. When the Saccos declared bankruptcy in 1995, Huykman filed a claim in bankruptcy court to prevent discharge of his debt. John Maziarz, Esq., represented the Saccos during the adversarial proceedings. After Maziarz failed to file paperwork with the court in a timely manner, the bankruptcy court entered a judgment against the Saccos in favor of Huykman.
The Saccos then sued Maziarz for legal malpractice in state court in Middlesex County. Huykman contacted the Saccos and offered to assist them in their malpractice claim in exchange for their agreement to pay any money recovered to reduce Huykman's judgment against them. The Saccos agreed to this proposal.
In August 2002, the trial court granted Maziarz' motion to file a third-party complaint against Huykman, alleging his negligence had contributed to the Saccos' damages. During the July 2003 trial, Huykman consented to the Saccos' motion to make Huykman a direct defendant. The jury awarded the Saccos $438,732 in damages and found Maziarz three percent at fault and Huykman ninety-seven percent at fault. The trial court also awarded the Saccos attorney's fees, apportioned in the same manner.
Huykman appealed the final judgment. In 2006, we affirmed the final judgment in part, reversing only that portion of the trial court's order that assessed attorneys fees against Huykman. Sacco v. Maziarz, No. A-1847-03 (App. Div. Feb. 21, 2006)(slip op. at 26-28), cert. denied, 188 N.J. 217 (2006). We also denied his motion for reconsideration and post-judgment relief. The Supreme Court later denied his motion for certification and his motion for reconsideration. Ibid.
In 2007, Huykman filed the action under appeal in Morris County against the Saccos to collect a $23,500 loan used to finance the Middlesex case. In October 2007, the Saccos counterclaimed to collect attorneys fees they claimed Huykman had promised to pay for the malpractice litigation against Maziarz. In early 2008, the trial judge dismissed Huykman's complaint but allowed the counterclaim to proceed.*fn1 In April 2008, Huykman filed what he called a "counterclaim" to the Sacco's counterclaim, asking the court to overturn the 2003 judgment against him and award him damages.
In July 2008, the judge dismissed Huykman's motion to file an amended complaint and denied his counterclaim. She also ordered him to cease attempting to relitigate the Middlesex case or face a sanction for bringing a frivolous suit.*fn2 The judge repeatedly told Huykman that she could not be an appeals court for another trial court or for the Appellate Division.
At the August 29, 2008, hearing, apparently on a discovery motion*fn3 by Huykman, the judge again warned Huykman that he was barred from continuing to ask the court to revisit the Middlesex case. Concerned that Huykman might not have fully comprehended her prior order prohibiting relitigating the Middlesex case, the judge denied the defense's motion for sanctions. She wrote on the August 29, 2008 order, in pertinent part:
"[T]o be completely clear, if any action emanating from the Middlesex County action is brought in this court (Morris County), by way of complaint, motion or otherwise, Mr. Huykman will be sanctioned in the full amount of reasonable and necessary fees and costs incurred by his adversary in defending against such complaint, motion, etc."
In January 2009, Huykman filed a motion to dismiss the counterclaim due to failure to provide discovery and a motion to dismiss the counterclaim as being barred by the entire controversy doctrine and res judicata due to the prior verdict. The Saccos again moved for sanctions for Huykman's violation of the August 29, 2008 order. On June 26, 2009, the trial court heard the pending motions. The judge first denied his motion to dismiss due to failure to answer discovery, as most of the discovery ...