On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Passaic County, Docket No. F-16021-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 20, 2011
Before Judges Messano, Yannotti and Espinosa.
Plaintiff, Greater Paterson Properties L.L.C., d/b/a Tax Lien Assignment Fund 020301, appeals from orders that vacated final judgment in its favor in a tax sale foreclosure and awarded a counsel fee that it deemed inadequate. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the order vacating final judgment and reverse the award of attorney's fees and costs.
Title to the property in question was held by Ramesh and Kantaben Patel and their son, Anil Patel.*fn1 In 1994, the elder Patels moved to what has been described as a remote part of India. Anil resides at the property with his wife, Dipika, and two children.
Anil failed to pay the taxes owed on the property for the years 2000 and 2001, resulting in two tax sales for unpaid municipal liens. Tax sale certificates were issued and plaintiff eventually obtained the certificates by assignment on February 28, 2003.
Ramesh and Kantaben executed a power of attorney on February 13, 2006, with regard to the subject property, which stated in pertinent part that each of them did hereby appoint constitute nominate and declare our son the most trust worthy person namely : -
ANILKUMAR RAMESHCHANDRA PATEL,
As our Attorney and as an agent to do or to be done the following Act/s, Thing/s and procedures in respect of our property in U.S.A. described hereinafter.
(1) That, we the executors of this Power of Attorney are Husband and wife. And our above named Attorney and as Agent is our son. We the executors are now residing in India and aged enough. So we are unable to run at U.S.A. Therefor [sic] we have executed this Deed of General Power of Attorney in favour of our son ANILKUMAR RAMESHCHANDRA PATEL in respect of our property in U.S.A. as described below owned to us.
(6) That if any such dispute arise in respect of the said property then also to take shelter of court of law and to do or to be done every such legal act/s, thing/s and procedures through concern lawyer.
(7) That in short we have fully authorised [sic] our above named Attorney and as an agent to do or to be done every such legal act/s, things and procedures in respect of the property discribed [sic] above, which we could have done if personally present, and whatever such Act/s, Thing/s and procedures done by our above named Attorney and as an agent shall be binding to us.
This Power of Attorney was notarized by an Indian notary in India in 2006, and was again notarized by an American notary in India on August 6, 2009.
In the interim, plaintiff filed a complaint to foreclose the tax sale certificates on April 23, 2008. Based upon the information available to plaintiff's counsel at the time, he believed that Ramesh and Kantaben Patel continued to reside at the subject property and so, the summons and complaint for all defendants were served on Dipika at the subject property on May 12, 2008. However, the elder Patels never resided at the property after they left for India in 1994.
None of the defendants filed an answer to the complaint. Instead, in June 2008, Anil wrote to plaintiff's attorney, stating he did not need to take any action because Anil was working with the City of Passaic to pay the outstanding taxes. Thereafter, plaintiff's counsel and Anil discussed Anil's efforts to redeem the tax sale certificates.
The court entered default judgment against defendants and fixed a final amount, time and place for redemption by order entered May 29, 2009, requiring redemption to take place on July 13, 2009. Defendants failed to redeem the property by that date and final judgment was entered on ...