August 7, 2012
IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF RAYMOND ANTELMAN.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Probate Part, Passaic County, Docket No. P-196530.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 18, 2012
Before Judges Espinosa and Koblitz.
Plaintiff Lisa Antelman appeals from a May 25, 2011 order denying reconsideration of those provisions of a March 3, 2011 order, which enforced a consent judgment by directing her to cancel a duplicate homeowners' insurance policy she purchased for 25 Edgewood Avenue, Clifton, and refrain from paying the real property taxes early. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
Plaintiff, represented by counsel, her step-mother Ruth Stoll Antelman, and others resolved a probate dispute concerning Lisa's father's estate in a January 7, 2010 consent judgment that provided that Lisa*fn1 would own the property, subject to Ruth's life estate. Lisa was also obligated to pay Ruth $114,000, $20,000 of which was subject to certain deductions. Provision 4 of the judgment reads:
With respect to the premises at 25 Edgewood Avenue, Clifton, Ruth Stoll Antelman shall be responsible for municipal taxes and assessments for municipal services, utilities, insurance and routine maintenance of the property during her occupancy[.] . . . All taxes, assessments and insurance . . . are to be paid by Ruth Stoll Antelman. . . . Should Ruth Stoll Antelman fail to make any payments as required, Lisa Antelman may . . . make such payments and deduct the amount paid from the funds due Ruth . . . [.]
In response to a subsequent motion filed by Lisa that is not the subject of this appeal, Ruth cross-moved on January 7, 2011, seeking to compel Lisa to terminate the duplicate homeowners' insurance policy she obtained or, alternatively, to not deduct that policy's cost from the payment due Ruth.
Ruth attached evidence of her property insurance policy with Mercury Insurance Company to her cross-motion. The judge conducted oral argument on January 28, 2011. Lisa argued with the judge, maintaining that she did not believe Ruth could obtain an insurance policy, as she was not the owner of the property. The judge directed Lisa to terminate her duplicate homeowners' policy and ordered her not to pay the property taxes early, and to give Ruth an opportunity to pay the taxes timely. An order was entered on February 14, 2011.
On March 3, 2011, the judge entered an amended order further enforcing the consent judgment and wrote to all parties stating that, after a full review of the entire file,
[t]his [c]court has reviewed the concerns expressed by Ms. [Lisa] Antelman and finds that she has an overall inaccurate recollection of what occurred in [c]court and an incomplete understanding of the transcripts from the hearing.
In an attempt "to re-establish a peaceful process," the judge clarified who could be present at the property when Lisa returned for her belongings.*fn2
Lisa subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration of the March 3, 2011 order, insisting that the judge had not directed her to cancel the duplicate insurance policy until she ascertained that the policy obtained by Ruth was "appropriate." Lisa claimed that she was "in the process of ascertaining whether [Ruth's] policy effectively insures the property . . . " At oral argument on April 8, 2011, the judge noted that Lisa had obtained a fire policy, which was not the appropriate insurance policy. The judge accepted the statement from Ruth's insurance carrier indicating that its policy was the proper insurance policy for a person with a life estate.
Lisa also asked to be reimbursed by Ruth for taxes she paid on the property. Ruth maintains that her attorney-in-fact, Rosen, reimbursed Lisa for the taxes. The judge denied Lisa's request for further reimbursement, informing Lisa that if she insisted on paying property taxes before they were due, she ran the risk of not being reimbursed for those payments.
On appeal, Lisa raises the following issues:
POINT I: TRIAL JUDGE HAS DENIED APPELLANT HER DUE PROCESS RIGHTS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONSTITUTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY BY DISREGARDING EVIDENCE AND BY DENYING A PLENARY HEARING ON FACTUAL MATTERS.
POINT II: [TRIAL] JUDGE['S]  ORDER OF MAY 25, 2011 DENYING APPELLANT/DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION OF THE ORDER OF MARCH 3, 2011 CONSTITUTES REVERSIBLE ERROR. THE COURT FAILED TO CONSIDER RELEVANT EVIDENCE AND FAILED TO MAKE ANY FINDING OF FACT.
POINT III: TRIAL JUDGE['S]  RULINGS CONSTITUTE REVERSIBLE ERROR.
POINT IV: [TRIAL] JUDGE['S]  DEMEANOR TO THE PRO SE DEFENDANT AS EVIDENCED IN THE TRANSCRIPTS IS IN VIOLATION OF JUDICIAL CANONS REQUIRING THAT SHE BE RECUSED FROM ANY OTHER PROCEEDINGS IN THIS MATTER AND THAT AN ADVISORY COMMITTEE REVIEW HER CONDUCT.
We defer to the factual findings of the trial court when supported by sufficient evidence in the record. See Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974) (findings of a trial judge sitting without a jury are "considered binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence").
Lisa argues that the judge erred by deciding that Ruth's insurance policy was appropriate without a plenary hearing. As the judge reviewed a written explanation of the policy, she was able to determine the issue without the need of testimony.
Lisa also argues that she should receive reimbursement for real estate taxes she paid before the taxes were due. The judge ascertained that those taxes were not past-due and, therefore, Lisa did not have the authority under the consent judgment to pay the taxes. Nonetheless, Ruth, through counsel, indicated she had reimbursed Lisa by way of a payment from Rosen.
Contrary to Lisa's argument expressed in Point IV of her brief, the trial judge was patient with Lisa's complaints, even going so far as to re-read all the documents and correspondence relating to the matter prior to her March 3, 2011 order.
To the extent that we have not specifically addressed any of Lisa's arguments, we find them to be without sufficient merit to warrant a discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).