On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Union County, Docket No. F-04723-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 23, 2012 -
Before Judges Harris and Hoffman.
This appeal arises from a residential mortgage foreclosure proceeding in the Chancery Division. Defendant Raynard L. Williams appeals from the February 23, 2012 order that denied his motion to vacate an entry of default.*fn1 We affirm.
We glean the following facts from the pleadings and motion record. On January 15, 2010, plaintiff PNC Mortgage, a Division of PNC Bank, National Association (PNC), claiming to be a successor by merger to National City Mortgage, a Division of National City Bank (National City), filed a two-count foreclosure complaint in the Union County vicinage against Williams. The complaint recited that on April 24, 2009, Williams executed (1) a note to National City in the sum of $353,204 and (2) (along with Sharonda L. Williams) a mortgage on realty in Rahway to secure payment of the note. According to the complaint, Williams made two monthly installment payments, and went into default on August 1, 2009.
On November 16, 2009, PNC directed a Notice of Intention to Foreclose (the Notice of Intention) to the Rahway address of the mortgaged property. The Notice of Intention was received there and signed for by a person identified as Chris Williams. Among other things, the Notice of Intention was addressed to defendant, and it clearly identified the mortgaged property, the current lender and loan servicer, the amount of the original indebtedness, the event constituting default, and explained how to cure the default by contacting "PNC Mortgage/Collections" at an address and telephone number in Ohio.
After filing the foreclosure complaint two months later, PNC accomplished service of process of the pleadings by delivering them to a person described as "Chris Williams, [defendant's] son and co-occupant" at the mortgaged property. Williams failed to answer or otherwise challenge the complaint in the Chancery Division. Instead, according to his motion certification, he "began to aggressively seek help in renegotiating [his] loan terms." He contacted several third parties to no avail, and his efforts to renegotiate with his loan servicer were unsuccessful.
Default was entered against Williams on April 23, 2010. In June 2010, independent of the foreclosure litigation, PNC received an "Authorization to Loan Servicer for Release of Information" (the Authorization) from Faith Fellowship Community Development Corporation (Faith Fellowship), a "HUD-approved housing counseling agency." The Authorization contained Williams's signature appended to it and purported to permit PNC to discuss Williams's "case" with a Faith Fellowship housing counselor.*fn2 The record does not indicate whether there were any further contacts between PNC and Faith Fellowship.
As far as the record reveals, nothing further occurred in the foreclosure action until December 20, 2010, when Judge Glenn A. Grant, in his capacity as Acting Administrative Director of the Courts, issued Administrative Order 01-2010,*fn3 captioned "Administrative Order Directing Submission of Information From Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Plaintiffs Concerning Their Document Execution Practices to a Special Master." This Administrative Order affected PNC and twenty-three other foreclosure plaintiffs who were each prosecuting at least 200 residential foreclosure proceedings throughout the State. According to PNC, the Administrative Order effectively stayed the further processing of PNC's foreclosure action against Williams.
Our research*fn4 reveals that on August 23, 2011, Special Master Recall Judge Walter R. Barisonek entered an order finding PNC to "have sufficient policies and procedures in place to demonstrate affirmatively that there should not be irregularities in their handling of foreclosure proceedings in this State." Accordingly, Administrative Order 01-2010 was "dismissed against PNC Bank." On February 2, 2012, Judge Grant terminated Administrative Order 01-2010, ordering that "the operative provisions of the Administrative Order 01-2010 related to the twenty-four foreclosure plaintiffs identified in the caption are hereby closed."
On January 5, 2012, Williams filed his motion "to vacate judgment in favor of defendant [sic], pursuant to Rule 4:50-1(a) and for leave to file answer." The legal memorandum submitted in support of the motion referred to the application as one seeking the "reopening of default judgment" rather than vacating the entry of default. Williams also attached a proposed answer, which denied every allegation in PNC's complaint and asserted seven affirmative defenses, including lack of standing and unclean hands.
Factually, Williams asserted that he "was actively pursuing a loan modification" and "[PNC] has failed to comply [with] the standard of the Notice of Intention under the Fair Foreclosure Act." Specifically, Williams averred that his efforts aimed at renegotiating his loan included contacting "several non-profit corporations" and his loan servicer, which all proved unsuccessful.*fn5 As for the Notice of Intention, Williams certified that he "was never served with a Notice of Intent to ...