On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-10366-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 17, 2011
Before Judges J. N. Harris and Fasciale.
Plaintiff Ruth Eisenberger appeals from a November 5, 2010 order dismissing her complaint against defendant Boston Service Company, Inc. d/b/a Hann Financial Services Corporation (Hann). Eisenberger contends that the motion judge erred by applying Florida law rather than the laws of the State of New Jersey. We agree and reverse.
Eisenberger entered into an automobile leasing agreement*fn1
in 2003 which stated in pertinent part:
GOVERNING LAW: I [(Eisenberger)] agree that the laws of the State in which I reside at the time I sign this lease, as shown in item 1(b) above, shall govern this lease and my obligations.
It is undisputed Eisenberger resided in New Jersey when she signed the lease and that Hann's principal place of business was located in this State.
In 2008, Eisenberger moved to Florida and took the Maxima with her. When her lease ended, Eisenberger returned the Maxima to Hann in New Jersey. Hann then forwarded to Eisenberger an invoice totaling $3,712.71 for "damage . . . determined to be in excess of normal wear and tear as described in your lease agreement" and stated that "payment is due upon receipt."
Eisenberger declined to pay and filed a complaint against Hann, alleging that Hann violated the (1) New Jersey Consumer Protection Leasing Act (NJCPLA), N.J.S.A. 56:12-66(b); (2) New Jersey Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (NJTCCWNA), specifically N.J.S.A. 56:12-14; and (3) New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1, et seq. She contended that Hann charged her for end-of-lease property damage and failed to notify her of the right to challenge the charges through an independent appraiser within seven business days from receipt of the invoice.
Hann filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Rule 4:6-2(e). The judge issued an oral opinion and granted the motion. The judge found that Florida law applied and stated that "while generally New Jersey will honor choice of law provisions between the parties, the facts of this case fall within a recognized exception," because "Florida, not New Jersey, . . . has an overriding interest" "in protecting its consumers." The judge then dismissed the complaint because Eisenberger failed to establish a claim for relief under the laws of Florida.
On appeal, Eisenberger argues primarily that the trial court erred when it ruled that Florida rather than New Jersey law governed the lease agreement. We agree.
"'Ordinarily, when parties to a contract have agreed to be governed by the laws of a particular state, New Jersey courts will uphold the contractual choice if it does not violate New Jersey's public policy.'" N. Bergen Rex Transp. v. Trailer Leasing Co., 158 N.J. 561, 568-69 (1999) (quoting Instructional Sys., Inc. v. Computer Curriculum Corp., 130 N.J. 324, 341 (1992)). However, [the choice of law provision] will [not] govern if:
"(a) the chosen state has no substantial relationship to the parties or the transaction and there is no other reasonable ...