September 9, 2011
THE LAW OFFICES OF PETER C. HUMBLIAS, L.L.C., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
THE ESTATE OF LENA NOBILE, PAT SCARANO AND PRISCILLA SCARANO, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Morris County, Docket No. DC-001237-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted June 8, 2011
Before Judges Ashrafi and Kestin.
Plaintiff, the Law Offices of Peter C. Humblias, L.L.C., filed a five-count complaint in the Special Civil Part seeking a judgment for $6,450, alleging that sum as the amount due for legal services rendered pursuant to a retainer agreement. The named defendants were the Estate of Lena Nobile, Pat Scarano, and Priscilla Scarano.
The factual allegations of the complaint asserted, among its contentions, that, in May 2009, "defendants contacted plaintiff to render services on their behalf in connection with an on-going estate and trust litigation entitled 'the Estate of Lena Nobile'[,]" and that "defendants signed a retainer agreement" requiring the payment of "a minimum of $5,000." Defendants' answer asserted: "Plaintiff committed fraud, promissory estoppel, equitable estoppel, consumer fraud, this court does not have jurisdiction . . . . Defendant counter claim in the amount of $15,000." [sic]
After the second of two in-court proceedings, the trial court entered an "order of disposition" on May 24, 2010, on a court form in which the item for "default entered -- proofs to be submitted" was checked, and on which a handwritten addition appears. On the following day, the court entered a typewritten "amended order" modifying the terms of the May 24 order.
On June 2, 2010, defendants filed a "motion for reconsideration &/or to recuse yourself from case." On August 4, 2010, the trial court entered an order denying that relief for reasons set out in an attached statement. Defendants appeal from the August 4, 2010 order.
The handwritten entry on the May 24 order is only partially discernible. The photocopy provided by defendants in their appendix cuts off the bottom of the text. The part that appears reads:
No answer on behalf of estate nor has estate responded to discovery or appeared properly in court by counsel. Default entered against remaining defendants on failure to answer interrogatories [remainder of text indiscernible].
The May 25 order, in its preamble, recites:
. . . it appearing that the Estate of Lena Nobile having failed to properly answer the complaint or appear through counsel; and defendants Pat Scarano and Priscilla Scarano having failed to properly answer discovery demands propounded upon them; and it appearing that the court erred in entering default against all defendants . . . . and it goes on to rule:
that the order entered on May 24, 2010 entering default against defendants the Estate of Lena Nobile, Pat Scarano and Priscilla Scarano is hereby amended to enter default against the Estate of Lena Nobile only; and . . . the answer and counterclaim of defendants Pat Scarano and Priscilla Scarano be and hereby are stricken without prejudice for failure to provide discovery . . . .
Manifestly, these orders, subsumed in the August 4, 2010 order denying reconsideration from which the appeal has been taken, contain no final disposition and are, therefore, interlocutory by definition. Given their provisions, further proceedings are required before a judgment can be rendered in the matter.
Only final judgments are appealable as of right, see R. 2:2-3; otherwise, a motion for leave to appeal must be sought, see R. 2:2-4. "[A] judgment, in order to be eligible for appeal as a final judgment, must be final as to all parties and all issues." Pressler and Verniero, Current New Jersey Court Rules, comment 2.2.2 on R. 2:2-3 (2011). Interlocutory appeals are, normally, not entertained because of the "judicial policy that favors an uninterrupted proceeding at the trial level with a single and complete review." Golden Estates v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 317 N.J. Super. 82, 88 (App. Div. 1998) (quoting State v. Reldan, 100 N.J. 187, 205 (1985)).
Accordingly, the appeal must be dismissed as interlocutory, and the matter remanded to the trial court for such further proceedings as may be necessary to address and resolve the ultimate issues in the case.
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