On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Equity Part, Hudson County, Docket No. F-12104-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Graves and Koblitz.
In this mortgage foreclosure action, defendant Alexander Cupo appeals from the decision of the Chancery Division, General Equity Part, denying his motion to vacate default judgment and dismiss the complaint filed by plaintiff Bank of New York, as Trustees for the Certificate-Holders CWABS, Inc., Asset-Banked Certificates, Series 2006-23. Defendant argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion because: (1) plaintiff did not have physical possession of the promissory note at the time it filed its complaint for foreclosure; (2) plaintiff did not have standing to prosecute the foreclosure because the original lender, Countrywide Home Loans, assigned the promissory note and mortgage to plaintiff thirty-nine days after the complaint was filed; and (3) both plaintiff and its assignor Countrywide Home Loans failed to satisfy the requirements under N.J.S.A. 2A:50-56.
After reviewing the record before us, we reverse and remand this matter to the General Equity Part for a hearing to determine whether plaintiff has standing to file the complaint. As we made clear in Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co. v. Mitchell, 422 N.J. Super. 214, 224 (App. Div. 2011), a foreclosing mortgagee must demonstrate that it had the legal authority to enforce the promissory note at the time it filed the original complaint for foreclosure. As correctly noted by defendant here, the record shows that the original lender, Countrywide Home Loans, assigned the promissory note and mortgage to plaintiff on May 10, 2007, thirty-nine days after the complaint was filed.
The following facts will inform our analysis of the issues raised by the parties.
On December 22, 2006, defendant signed a promissory note to Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., memorializing a $245,000 loan. To secure payment of the note, defendant executed a mortgage to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS), acting solely as a nominee for Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. The mortgage was recorded on January 11, 2007. Defendant failed to make the first payment on the loan that was due on February 1, 2007. In fact, to date, defendant has not made any payments on the loan. Pursuant to the terms of the loan, defendant defaulted on March 1, 2007. Countrywide mailed defendant a notice of intent to foreclose dated March 5, 2007.
On May 10, 2007, plaintiff Bank of New York filed a complaint in foreclosure, seeking to sell the mortgaged lands to satisfy the amount due. The complaint indicated that "[b]y assignment of mortgage, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., acting solely as a nominee for Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. assigned its mortgage to Bank of New York as Trustee for the Certificateholders CWABS, Inc., Asset-Backed Certificates, Series 2006-03 which assignment has been sent for recording in the office of the clerk of Hudson County." Plaintiff served the summons and complaint on defendant on June 14, 2007.
The record shows that MERS assigned its mortgage to Bank of New York as Trustee for the Certificateholders CWABS, Inc., Asset-Backed Certificates, Series 2006-23, on June 19, 2007. The assignment was recorded on July 5, 2007. Plaintiff filed a request to enter default against defendant on August 20, 2007. Plaintiff mailed a notice of intent to enter final judgment on August 29, 2007. In this light, the matter was deemed uncontested and the court entered final judgment by default on November 15, 2007.
Despite the entry of final judgment, plaintiff and defendant continued
to discuss a possible settlement of the suit. Sheriff sales were
postponed a number of times during these negotiations.*fn1
The parties eventually proceeded to mediation. After two sessions, the parties reached an apparent
impasse. Although a third session was scheduled for September 28,
2010,*fn2 defendant moved to vacate the default
judgment and dismiss plaintiff's complaint on August 26, 2010, arguing
that plaintiff lacked standing to prosecute the foreclosure action,
and failed to comply with the notice requirements in N.J.S.A.
2A:50-56. Plaintiff argued that defendant had not established
excusable neglect nor raised a meritorious defense. The trial court
denied defendant's motion to vacate the default judgment as well as
his subsequent motion for reconsideration.
We start our analysis by reaffirming certain bedrock principles of appellate review. The decision to vacate a judgment lies within the sound discretion of the trial court, guided by principles of equity. Hous. Auth. of ...