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James Crook v. Infanti Hospitality Seating

July 22, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. DJ-163984-09.

Per curiam.


Argued May 10, 2011 -

Before Judges Graves, Messano and Waugh.

Defendant Infanti Hospitality Seating, Inc. (IHS) appeals from the denial of its motion to vacate a domesticated judgment against it in favor of plaintiffs James and Cindy Crook. Although not a defendant in the action, Vittorio Infanti also appeals from the order enforcing an information subpoena that was served on him by plaintiffs.*fn1 We have considered the arguments raised in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

We gather from the record that James Crook, a resident of Indiana, alleged he was injured on June 11, 2003, when a defective stool he was seated on at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Michigan gave way. It was further alleged that IHS manufactured the stool. On November 10, 2005, plaintiffs secured a default judgment in the federal district court for the Northern District of Indiana in the amount of $495,000.*fn2 On July 15, 2009, plaintiffs' New Jersey counsel docketed the judgment in this state pursuant to the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (the UEFJA), N.J.S.A. 2A:49A-25 to -33.

On or about February 12, 2010, plaintiffs moved to compel Vittorio "to sit for a supplementary proceeding in order to discover assets . . . which may be levied on." Defendants cross-moved opposing plaintiffs' request and seeking to transfer venue in the matter to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. IHS also filed a separate motion to vacate the default judgment.

In support of the applications, defense counsel certified that although plaintiffs served IHS at 3075 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, they "never acquired in personam jurisdiction" over IHS because plaintiffs "failed to personally and properly serve an individual in the corporation as required under" Rule 4:4-4. Counsel certified that IHS "was never involved in the sale of . . . stools to the gaming industry and was not active at the time of th[e] attempted service and [wa]s not active today." Counsel further certified that Vittorio "had corporations which sold . . . stools to the gaming industry back in 2004 and 2005," but "never sold said . . . stools under the name [IHS] to any casino or gaming industry outfit."

Lastly, counsel certified that another corporation, Infanti Hospitality Seating Enterprises, Inc. (Enterprises), was actively operated by Vittorio's ex-wife, Elizabeth Kavlakian, at the time plaintiff's judgment was secured. He claimed that Kavlakian, along with George Sharpe and Amboy National Bank, were involved in "perpetrating an ongoing fraud against [Vittorio]," the subject of pending RICO litigation in the federal court for the Eastern District.

Vittorio certified that the judgment actually referred to Enterprises, currently owned and operated by Kavlakian. Vittorio claimed that Kavlakian was operating the business at an address in Linden, New Jersey, that the corporation was formed "at the direction and advice of [his] former bank, Amboy National Bank, and its president, George Sharpe," and that he (Vittorio) was the victim of a "long running fraud . . . now the subject of a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District." Vittorio claimed he had "no connection whatsoever at any time to . . . [IHS]," "never engaged in any business under that name," and was never connected with the corporation. Vittorio further certified that he was not served with the summons and complaint by plaintiffs and "was completely unaware of any lawsuit."

Oral argument on the motions and cross-motion was heard on April 16, 2010. Plaintiffs contended that the judge lacked authority to vacate the Indiana judgment. The judge agreed:

The law is the law. The Constitution says that if some judge i[n] some other state renders a judgment I don't like, I have to say that's the judgment. So there's nothing I can do about it.

The judge also noted that he "ha[d] no power" to transfer venue in the matter to a federal court. He entered two orders granting plaintiffs' motion for supplementary proceedings, denying defendants' motion to vacate the judgment and denying the motion to transfer venue. This appeal followed.

Before us, defendants argue that the judge erred "in allowing an out of state foreign judgment to stand and operate as a valid docketed judgment in New Jersey" because plaintiffs failed to properly serve IHS. They also contend that the ...

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