NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 18, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. L-1423-10.
Jonathan A. Chandross, appellant, argued the cause pro se.
Respondent New Century Financial Services, Inc. has not filed a brief.
Before Judges Fuentes, Simonelli and Haas.
Defendant Jonathan A. Chandross appeals from a September 7, 2011 judgment entered by the Law Division, awarding plaintiff New Century Financial Services, Inc. $24, 210.43, the outstanding balance on a credit card account that defendant allegedly had with HSBC/Orchard Bank. Defendant also challenges the trial court's decision to suppress his answer and strike his counterclaim. For the reasons which follow, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
Plaintiff is a debt collection agency, which purchases defaulted credit card accounts and then attempts to collect on them. On March 1, 2010, plaintiff's attorney, Pressler and Pressler, LLP, sent defendant a letter stating that plaintiff had purchased an account defendant purportedly held with HSBC/Orchard Bank. The letter explained that, in order to avoid litigation, defendant was required to pay plaintiff the entire $24, 284.43 balance due on the account.
On April 4, 2010, defendant sent a letter to plaintiff's attorney invoking the protections afforded to him by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692a - o. Specifically, defendant advised plaintiff that he disputed the debt and he requested a "full and detailed accounting for all monies you allege I owe, " together with "[c]opies of all papers establishing any agreement to pay the money you allege I owe, including copies of any original applications or sales agreements[.]"
Plaintiff did not respond to defendant's request. Instead, on April 8, 2010, it filed a one-page complaint against defendant in the Law Division seeking to recover the outstanding balance on the account, plus interest. Defendant filed an answer and a counterclaim, alleging that plaintiff violated the FDCPA by failing to validate the alleged debt. Defendant also requested a jury trial.
Defendant continued to seek further information and documentation concerning the credit card account and filed a motion to require plaintiff to provide a more definite statement of its cause of action. On June 25, 2010, the trial court granted the motion. However, plaintiff never complied with the order. Defendant also served plaintiff with a demand for documents, including the original credit card application and any documents verifying the individual charges comprising the full balance defendant allegedly owed on the account. Again, plaintiff did not respond. Defendant filed another motion to require plaintiff to comply with the June 25 order and to provide discovery. The court granted these motions in orders dated August 6 and 31, 2010. However, there is nothing in the record to indicate that plaintiff ever complied. Defendant then moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, but the motion was denied by the court on September 16, 2010.
Defendant was also not fully attentive to his own discovery responsibilities. He failed to appear for a deposition and did not respond to plaintiff's interrogatories. On November 12, 2010, the court ordered defendant to attend the deposition and to provide plaintiff with copies of his "checking, savings and accounts for paying bills" from September 1, 2001 to September 1, 2006; all monthly statements defendant received from HSBC/Orchard concerning the account; and any emails, letters or other writings sent by defendant concerning the account. Defendant did not immediately attend the deposition. Four days after the order was issued, however, defendant underwent neurosurgery and, on December 12, 2010, he wrote to the court to advise that he would not be able to participate in the litigation until at least March 15, 2011.
On January 7, 2011, the court entered an order that required defendant's attendance at a deposition on March 16, 2011 and advised him that, if he did not attend, plaintiff could apply for an order dismissing defendant's counterclaim. Defendant could not attend the deposition due to his surgery and more discovery motions followed. On July 8, 2011, the court ordered defendant to attend the deposition and provide the requested documentation. The ...