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Mabinty Koroma v. Joseph K. Tellewoyan

March 27, 2012

MABINTY KOROMA, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOSEPH K. TELLEWOYAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FM-03-1586-10.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 1, 2012 -

Before Judges Graves and Koblitz.

Defendant Joseph K. Tellewoyan appeals the January 14, 2011 order denying his application to vacate a default divorce judgment and granting plaintiff $1005 in counsel fees. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm the decision not to vacate the judgment and remand to the motion judge to amplify his reasons for imposing counsel fees.

The parties were married on December 27, 2003. Defendant indicates in his brief that he is a naturalized citizen born in the Republic of Liberia and that his wife is from Sierra Leone. No children were born of the marriage. Plaintiff filed for divorce on June 23, 2010.

Defendant acknowledges being served on July 10, 2010, with the complaint seeking divorce on the grounds of eighteen months separation. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2(d). He responded by sending his wife's counsel and the court a one-page document titled "Notice of Motion to Annul Marriage" by certified mail, return receipt requested, on July 10, 2010. The court received its copy on July 12, 2010. Plaintiff's counsel signed for the document on July 15, 2010. Defendant did not otherwise respond and a default judgment was entered on September 29, 2010, granting only the requested divorce with no other relief.

On October 9, 2010, defendant filed what he referred to as a motion for reconsideration, seeking an annulment and reimbursement for $8000 of expenses he incurred in connection with the marriage. The judge considered this application as a motion for relief from judgment. R. 4:50-1. He found that defendant did not demonstrate excusable neglect for his failure to answer the complaint and denied relief.

On November 30, 2010, defendant filed a motion to vacate default judgment alleging that the "summons and complaint was not served in accordance with court rules"*fn1 and that his "answer and counterclaim [were] ignored by plaintiff's attorney."

The motion judge denied defendant's application, finding that his answer and counterclaim were untimely, as they were prepared on November 20, 2010. The judge noted further that defendant did not present excusable neglect as the reason for his failure to timely respond to the complaint. The judge indicated that the earlier filed "Notice of Motion to Annul Marriage" did not appear to be properly filed and that defendant took no other action prior to his receipt of the judgment. The judge dismissed defendant's argument concerning improper service as being completely unsupported.

The judge then listed the factors that he considered in awarding the requested counsel fees.

On appeal defendant raises the following issues:

POINT I: DID JUDGE [] ERR IN GRANTED DIVORCE TO PLAINTIFF MABINTY KOROMA THROUGH SUMMARY JUDG[]MENT WITHOUT ...


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