NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted June 18, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Bergen County, Docket No. SC-1590-11.
Ameri & Associates, LLC, attorneys for appellant (Nima Ameri, on the brief).
Respondent has not filed a brief.
Before Judges Parrillo and Messano.
On May 5, 2011, following a non-jury trial the Special Civil Part judge entered an order for judgment in favor of plaintiff Jewel Lankford against defendant Hossein Ameri in the amount of $293.81. Defendant subsequently moved to vacate the judgment and for other relief. On July 8, 2011, the judge entered an order denying defendant's motion, and defendant now appeals.
Having reviewed the record in light of applicable legal standards, we reverse and remand the matter to the trial court for entry of judgment in defendant's favor.
Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint in the Special Civil Part alleging that she leased certain premises from defendant; that Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) refused to connect her service because a balance was due from a prior account at the premises; and PSEG told her that, because the prior service was listed as "no name, " it was the landlord's (defendant's) responsibility to pay the outstanding bill. Plaintiff further alleged that defendant refused to pay, causing plaintiff to pay $293.81 to connect the service.
On the trial date, plaintiff and defendant appeared. Defendant requested an adjournment, claiming he had just received the summons "a few days ago" and wanted to consult an attorney. The judge denied defendant's request. During the course of the proceedings, plaintiff identified the lease she entered into with defendant, which, according to its terms, stated, "Tenant is responsible for all utilities . . . ." Defendant acknowledged that the prior tenant may have failed to pay her outstanding bill, but, he explained, he was "not a collection agen[t] for [PSEG]." He testified that he provided the name of the former tenant to the utility.
The judge concluded, however, that despite the lease provisions, plaintiff should not be responsible for the prior bill, and it "was the landlord's responsibility to provide the apartment with electricity." He further determined it was defendant's "responsibility to go after that tenant, to do whatever the landlord could so that the new tenant would come in and be free and clear." The judge entered judgment in favor of plaintiff.
Days later, defendant moved to vacate the judgment. He provided a memorandum of law, specifically citing certain regulations which we discuss below. Because the original judge was unavailable, a second judge rescheduled the motion.
The motion was heard on July 8, 2011. The trial judge declared defendant's motion was "improper." He advised defendant to file an appeal, stating, "Your motion [for reconsideration] is denied . . . ." The judge entered an order of the same date, indicating the motion was denied for "reasons stated on the record . . . ...