On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-853-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sabatino and Ashrafi.
Third-party defendant Merrick Wilson*fn1 appeals from judgment after trial before a jury in favor of third-party plaintiffs Greg and Donna Betar for $61,289.93 plus prejudgment interest and costs awarded by the court totaling $5,843.78. Wilson contends that certain prejudicial trial errors occurred, but primarily, he argues that the trial court erroneously permitted the jury to find him personally liable for breach of a settlement agreement with the Betars that he executed only on behalf of the corporate plaintiff, Yardley Travel Ltd. The Betars cross-appeal from the trial court's denial of their motion to amend their third-party complaint to add claims of fraud. We reject the arguments in both the appeal and the cross-appeal and affirm the judgment.
Yardley Travel Ltd. was a Pennsylvania corporation engaged in the travel business and owned by appellant Wilson's wife, Susan Wilson. In 2006, Yardley hired Greg and Donna Betars' son as a travel agent. The following year, Yardley added a ticket brokerage service to its business, and the Betars' son was given primary responsibility for running that service.
In early January 2008, Susan Wilson discovered that a large number of event tickets had been purchased by unauthorized use of her personal American Express card, Yardley's corporate American Express card, and several credit cards of Yardley's clients. Appellant Wilson investigated the unexplained credit card charges and concluded that the Betars' son had carried out a fraudulent ticket purchase scheme. Wilson calculated a loss of $61,298.92 to Yardley and the credit card holders.
On January 4, 2008, Wilson confronted the son, who immediately left the office complaining of health problems. Wilson was not able to contact him after he left. On the same day, Wilson contacted the police in Lower Makefield Township, Pennsylvania, and relayed his belief that the Betars' son had engaged in credit card fraud and theft of the tickets.
Within days, Wilson contacted Greg and Donna Betar, who lived in Oak Ridge, New Jersey. Donna Betar testified at trial that Wilson and his son, Matt Wilson, left threatening messages on her answering machine about her son's potential criminal liability. She testified that the Wilsons told her of an imminent meeting with the police scheduled for the afternoon of January 7, 2008. They offered to cancel the meeting and withdraw their police complaint if the Betars reimbursed Yardley for the losses attributed to their son. In his testimony,
Wilson stated he did not recall whether he agreed not to press charges if the Betars paid for the loss.
After many phone conversations, Donna Betar reached an agreement with Wilson to make payment to avoid criminal and other accusations against her son. At trial, Wilson acknowledged that an agreement was reached but could not recall the substance of the agreement. Donna Betar testified that the agreement was that the Betars would pay Yardley $61,289.93, and in exchange all claims or charges before the police, Yardley's insurance carrier, and American Express would be withdrawn and no further action would be taken against any of the Betars.
On January 7, 2008, the Betars went to Yardley's office in Yardley, Pennsylvania, to complete the settlement. The Betars and Wilson had each prepared a written document for signature by the other party to the oral agreement. The relevant terms of Wilson's settlement document provide:
[The Betars] have given Yardley Travel Ltd. a certified check in the amount of $61,298.92 as consideration to pay for the expenses of the alleged theft, alleged criminal activities, and losses perpetrated by your son . . . against Yardley Travel Ltd. and Yardley Tickets, which have been discovered to date and are outlined in the attached spreadsheet . . . . Yardley Travel Ltd., at your request and as consideration to you, will notify the Lower Makefield Township police department, Selective Insurance Company, and American Express Co. that $61,298.92 has been received to cover the alleged losses . . . .
[The Betars] recognize that the . . . payment is only for the alleged criminal activities that have been discovered and identified as of January 6, 2008 and outlined on the attached itemized spreadsheet . .
The Betars' handwritten settlement document provides:
The checks in the total amount of $61,289.93 are to reimburse Yardley Travel in full for the alleged fraudulent credit card charges ...