September 3, 2013
MIDLAND FUNDING, LLC, Plaintiff-Respondent,
CHARLES ANGWENYI, Defendant-Appellant.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued March 11, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. DC-003062-11.
Charles Angwenyi, pro se.
Lawrence J. McDermott, Jr., argued the cause for respondent (Pressler and Pressler, L.L.P., attorneys; Mr. McDermott, on the brief).
Before Judges Graves and Guadagno.
Defendant Charles Angwenyi appeals from a May 25, 2012 order denying his motion for reconsideration of an April 27, 2012 order, which entered a default judgment in favor of plaintiff Midland Funding LLC in the amount of $12, 587.21. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.
Plaintiff is the owner of a Citibank credit card account in the name of defendant. On February 1, 2011, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging defendant owed the sum of $12, 191.41 and demanded judgment together with interest and costs of suit. In his answer, defendant stated, "The bill has been paid." Trial was scheduled for May 31, 2011, but adjourned to June 13, 2011.
On May 16, 2011, the court ordered defendant's answer stricken without prejudice. The order provided the answer would be reinstated upon defendant's submission of "fully responsive answers to the propounded interrogatories" and payment of the appropriate fee.
On July 8, 2011, the court denied defendant's motion for reconsideration of the suppression motion. The court noted on the order that "defendant has not answered the plaintiff's discovery. If the defendant does it quickly, he can have his answer restored and still have the trial." Thereafter, the court entered an order on November 18, 2011, granting defendant's motion to reinstate his answer upon payment of a $75 restoration fee. Defendant paid the fee and his answer was reinstated.
On February 15, 2012, thirteen days prior to trial, defendant requested an adjournment. Defendant stated he had to "travel out of [the] country" for an emergency to "attend to [his] mother up to March 25, 2012." Defendant indicated he attempted to obtain the consent of plaintiff's attorney for the adjournment, but defendant did not specify that consent was given. The trial was not adjourned and defendant failed to appear.
On April 6, 2012, plaintiff filed a motion to enter judgment in its favor based on defendant's failure to appear for trial. Plaintiff provided proof of mailing, which indicated the motion was sent to defendant at zip code 07307. On April 27, 2012, the court entered a default judgment against defendant in the amount of $12, 587.21, plus costs.
On May 2, 2012, defendant moved for reconsideration of the entry of default judgment and requested oral argument. In a supporting certification, defendant stated that he had requested an adjournment of the February 28, 2012 trial, and he did not receive the April 6, 2012 motion requesting the entry of default judgment. Further, defendant stated he resided at an address in a 07304 zip code. Additionally, defendant produced a boarding pass and travel itinerary confirming his overseas flight left Newark Airport on February 20, 2012, and returned to JFK Airport on March 19, 2012.
The court denied defendant's request for reconsideration on May 25, 2012. The order entered by the court contained the following statement: "The motion for reconsideration is based on the same facts previously considered and rejected. Therefore, motion is denied."
Defendant argues on appeal that the trial court should have vacated the default judgment entered against him "because [he] properly requested an adjournment." We are not convinced it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to deny defendant's request for an adjournment. Nevertheless, we conclude the default judgment should be vacated.
Generally, applications "seeking relief from default judgments are to be 'viewed with great liberality, and every reasonable ground for indulgence is tolerated to the end that a just result is reached.'" Prof'l Stone, Stucco & Siding Applicators, Inc. v. Carter, 409 N.J.Super. 64, 68 (App. Div. 2009) (quoting Marder v. Realty Constr. Co., 84 N.J.Super. 313, 319 (App. Div.), aff'd, 43 N.J. 508 (1964)). Any doubts regarding the decision should be resolved in favor of the party seeking relief. Mancini v. EDS, 132 N.J. 330, 334 (1993) (citing Arrow Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Levinson, 231 N.J.Super. 527, 534 (App. Div. 1989)). Furthermore, the Supreme Court has held that an appellate court should reverse for failure to grant an adjournment when the trial court abused its discretion, causing a party a "manifest wrong or injury." State v. Hayes, 205 N.J. 522, 537 (2011).
In this case, defendant properly requested an adjournment of the trial and submitted proof that he was out of the country. In addition, there is reason to believe that defendant never received notice of plaintiff's motion for entry of default judgment because defendant certified he did not receive it, the motion was not sent to the correct address, and plaintiff was unable to produce a return receipt card to confirm that defendant received its motion. Accordingly, the order entering default judgment in favor of plaintiff on April 27, 2012, and the order denying defendant's motion for reconsideration on May 25, 2012, are reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.