INMATES LEGAL ASSOCIATION, INC., EDWARD GRIMES, BOBBY BROWN, SEAN WASHINGTON, JOHN TELL, DHARUBA KALAHARI, JOSEPH AUSTIN, MELVIN MASON, AUDBERTO EGIPCIACO, PHILLIP WOOD and HARRY JAMES, Plaintiffs, and RA'ZULU S. UKAWABUTU, Plaintiff-Appellant,
MICHELLE RICCI, WILLIAM MOLEINS, JAMES BARNES, BRENDA HUTTON, PETER RONAGHAN, SHIRLEY STEPHENS, DENISE GRAY, DANIEL FINLAY, NORMA BLAKE and RAPHEAL DOLCE, Defendants-Respondents.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: October 30, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-2638-09.
Ra'Zulu S. Ukawabutu, appellant pro se.
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondents (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Christopher C. Josephson, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Before Judges Fasciale and Haas.
Plaintiff Ra'Zulu Ukawabutu appeals from two June 2, 2011 orders of the Law Division granting defendants' separate motions to set aside default and to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint. We are constrained to reverse and remand because the court did not make findings of fact and conclusions of law on the issues raised by defendants' motions.
On October 20, 2009, plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Law Division alleging that defendants had failed to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement reached in a prior federal action, Valentine v. Beyer, Civil Action No. 85-4401. On March 1, 2010, defendants removed the matter to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1446(a). Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand and, on November 30, 2010, the district court granted plaintiffs' motion and remanded the matter to the Law Division for consideration.
On March 14, 2011, plaintiffs filed the remand order with the Law Division. The next day, they asked the court to enter default against defendants because they had not responded to plaintiffs' complaint. On March 18, 2011, default was entered against defendants. On April 15, 2011, plaintiffs filed a motion for the entry of a default judgment. On May 11, 2011, defendants filed a cross-motion to vacate the default. Pursuant to Rule 4:43-3, defendants' motion to vacate the default was accompanied by a "dispositive motion, " in this case a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint. Defendants asked that their motion to dismiss be filed if the default was vacated. Plaintiffs did not respond to the motion to vacate the default.
On June 2, 2011, the trial court granted defendants' motion to vacate the default and entered an order directing the clerk to file defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint. On that same date, the court entered a second order granting defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint. In a very brief statement on the record, the court stated:
Docket Number L-2638-09. The same matter, there is a motion to dismiss the complaint in lieu of answer. There's no opposition. For the reasons set forth in the moving papers the motion is granted.
No further explanation for the court's ruling was provided.
Ukawabutu appeals, claiming the court erred in dismissing the complaint. However, because the court failed to provide adequate findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting its ...