NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 19, 2013.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Bergen County, Docket No. DC-24892-11.
Herrick, Feinstein, LLP, attorneys for appellant (David J. Byrne and Stefanie Lampf, on the briefs).
Charmaine Gurdon, respondent pro se.
Before Judges Alvarez, St. John and Leone.
Plaintiff Glenbrook Condominium Association, Inc. appeals the April 19, 2012 order of the motion judge, denying its motion for counsel fees, with prejudice, and ordering that its dispute with defendant Charmaine Gurdon be submitted for binding arbitration to the District Fee Arbitration Committee for Bergen County. Following our review of the arguments advanced on appeal, in light of the record and applicable law, we reverse and remand.
The record discloses the following facts and procedural history. Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant, a unit owner who owed plaintiff common expense maintenance fees. The parties were able to settle the dispute and defendant signed a consent order agreeing to pay plaintiff $3, 220.80. The consent order further provided that plaintiff would receive "reasonable attorneys' fees and costs as will be determined by the Court." Plaintiff subsequently made an application for $12, 531.55 in attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the terms of the consent order which provided that plaintiff shall file "a fee application, within fifteen (15) days of the date hereof, pursuant to R. 4:42-9(a)(8) and R. 4:42-9(b)." Defendant had the right to contest the application pursuant to the consent order, which she did.
At the motion hearing, instead of determining the reasonableness of plaintiff's application, the motion judge compelled the matter to binding fee arbitration and dismissed the application with prejudice. It is from that order that plaintiff appeals.
On appeal, plaintiff argues that the court erred by: (1) directing the matter to the District Fee Arbitration Committee since the parties explicitly agreed to have the court make a determination as to the reasonableness of attorneys' fees and costs; and (2) sending the matter to fee arbitration where the fee arbitration committee did not have jurisdiction.
Plaintiff argues that while a court has the power to liberally read a party's pleadings, this did not allow the motion judge to ignore the consent order between the parties, or deem defendant's opposition to plaintiff's motion as a demand for fee arbitration. Plaintiff, citing Rule 1:20A-2(a), further contends that the fee committee does ...