June 4, 2013
EDUCAP, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
ROBERT A. DAVIS, Defendant, and AMANDA DAVIS, Defendant-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Telephonically Argued May 20, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Docket No. L-2124-11.
Jeffrey H. Ward argued the cause for appellant.
Dinah E. Hendon argued the cause for respondent (Lasser Hochman, L.L.C., attorneys; Ms. Hendon, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Fisher and St. John.
Plaintiff Educap, Inc. appeals a judgment based on a verdict, rendered by the judge after a bench trial, that defendant Amanda Davis was not a party to, and therefore not liable to repay, a student loan. In applying our familiar standard of review in nonjury matters, we affirm.
Many of the facts were undisputed. Defendant Robert Davis divorced Amanda's mother in 2007 while Amanda was a student at Sacred Heart University. Her parents' property settlement agreement obligated Robert to pay the tuition and all other costs associated with Amanda's college education. The parties also did not dispute that Robert applied for the student loan in question via the internet and is obligated to repay it; in fact, prior to trial, summary judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff and against Robert in the amount of $80, 104.15.
But plaintiff also sought relief against Amanda, who disputed she entered into the loan agreement – a dispute that was the subject of a two-day trial. After weighing the evidence and the witnesses' credibility, Judge Anthony J. Graziano ruled in Amanda's favor, and plaintiff appeals, arguing:
I. THE VERDICT WAS AGAINST THE WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE.
II. THE DEFENDANT DID NOT MEET HER BURDEN OF PROOF WITH ANY SUBSTANTIAL CREDIBLE EVIDENCE AT TRIAL.
III. THE COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT THE DOCTRINE OF UNJUST ENRICHMENT WAS INAPPLICABLE TO DEFENDANT.
We find insufficient merit in these arguments to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We add only the following brief comments.
To support its position, plaintiff called to testify its custodian of records and bankruptcy administrator, who had no personal knowledge – other than what the loan documents suggested – as to Amanda's participation as a borrower in this transaction. That is, plaintiff's representative based her position that Amanda was liable to repay the loan on the fact that Amanda's name was on the application and other documents; plaintiff's representative, however, was not present when the application was executed, and the signature purported to be Amanda's was not notarized. Plaintiff called Robert to testify to provide the personal knowledge otherwise absent from its proofs; Robert, however, claimed he did not recognize the signature as Amanda's and did not see her sign it. Amanda testified on her own behalf, denying any knowledge of the loan or that the signatures or other handwriting on the loan documents were made by her, and her mother testified to corroborate Amanda's position.
Judge Graziano properly recognized that the extent to which Amanda had agreed to participate in the loan transaction or otherwise agreed to repay the loan turned on the witnesses' credibility. He found Robert was not credible:
It's absolutely incredible to me that he could sit here and say what he said about Amanda's signature on that paper. I don't know how it got there.
The documents are in his control. He prepared the documents. He admits transmitting them, and to say I don't know how her signature got on there is clearly an indication that he's not being forthright with regard to that, and therefore, with regard to many other things as well.
He knows perfectly well how that signature got there and who signed it, whether it was him or somebody on his behalf to sign her signature. He knows that. He was not honest in [that regard].
Based on those credibility findings, Judge Graziano surmised that Robert had determined to finance Amanda's education by applying for a loan in Amanda's name while remaining a co-signor, but he also concluded that Amanda did not sign the loan documents, had not agreed to enter into a loan transaction, and could not be held liable to repay plaintiff.
A judge's nonjury findings are binding on appeal "when supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence." Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). We only disturb a judge's factual findings when they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice. Ibid. Because plaintiff has presented no principled basis upon which we may intervene or otherwise second-guess the trial judge's findings, we reject the arguments contained in plaintiff's first two points.
We reject the third and last point in which plaintiff argues that Amanda may be held liable, regardless of the findings as to the loan transaction, based on an unjust enrichment theory. "Unjust enrichment is not an independent theory of liability, but is the basis for a claim of quasi-contractual liability." Nat'l Amusements, Inc. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 261 N.J.Super. 468, 478 (Law Div. 1992), aff'd, 275 N.J.Super. 134 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 138 N.J. 269 (1994). Quasi-contractual obligations are imposed "for the purpose of bringing about justice without reference to the intention of the parties" and "rest on the equitable principle that a person shall not be allowed to enrich himself unjustly at the expense of another, and on the principle that whatsoever it is certain that a man ought to do, that the law supposes him to have promised to do." St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Indemnity Ins. Co., 32 N.J. 17, 22 (1960) (citations and internal quotations omitted); see also Callano v. Oakwood
Park Homes Corp 91 N.J.Super 105 108-09 (App Div 1966) Although Amanda received a benefit — the loan proceeds were actually used to pay for her college education — she neither expressly nor impliedly promised to repay the loan Her father arranged for the loan to satisfy his obligation to pay for Amanda's education as the property settlement agreement discloses Robert's source of funds to satisfy his obligation does not unjustly enrich Amanda since she was not obligated to pay for her college education Therefore under the circumstances it would be inequitable in light of the judge's factual findings to require that Amanda repay Robert's loan.