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Raji v. Saucedo

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 30, 2019

MARISOL RAJI, Plaintiff-Respondent,
ALFONSO SAUCEDO and YAMIRIS MUNOZ, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued September 17, 2019

          On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. DC-008329-18.

          John Robert Gorman argued the cause for appellants (Lutz Shafranski Gorman & Mahoney, PA, attorneys; John Robert Gorman, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Andrew Dietmar Ullrich argued the cause for respondent (The Ullrich Law Firm, LLC, attorneys; Andrew Dietmar Ullrich, of counsel and on the brief).

          Before Judges Fisher, Accurso and Gilson.


          FISHER, P.J.A.D.

          In considering the nature of a "pay-and-go" consent judgment, which resolved a summary dispossess action, and the judgment's impact on later-asserted claims for damages, we hold that by entering into such a consent judgment the parties entered into an accord and satisfaction and thereby finally resolved all the known claims arising out of the tenancy. Consequently, we affirm the trial court's rejection of the tenants' counterclaim in the landlord's subsequent action for enforcement of the pay-and-go judgment because the counterclaim was based on a claim then known to the tenants that they should have raised during the negotiations that led to the pay-and-go judgment.

         The facts and circumstances that bring this matter before us are uncomplicated. Following the death of her husband, plaintiff Marisol Raji moved out of her Monroe Township home and, in June 2012, offered to sell it to friends, defendants Alfonso Saucedo and Yamiris Munoz. Apparently, defendants were not in a position to immediately buy the property, so, to allow them time to secure financing, plaintiff agreed to lease the premises to them. And, because the parties intended an eventual transfer of ownership, their lease agreement arguably called for defendants to bear all costs associated with maintaining the property.

          Five years later, the status remained unchanged. Plaintiff texted defendants in August 2017, lamenting the passage of time; she expressed it was "never [her] intention to be anyone's landlord let alone [her] friends, " and questioned their failure to respond to her entreaties about closing on the anticipated transaction by the end of 2017. Plaintiff received no satisfactory response and, after paying November's rent of $2456, defendants failed to pay the following month's rent, prompting plaintiff's filing of a summary dispossess action in December 2017.

         The parties quickly resolved their differences. On January 17, 2018, they consented to a pay-and-go judgment, which memorialized plaintiff's entitlement to immediate possession and fixed the parties' financial obligations. The judgment declared that defendants would pay plaintiff $7368, and provided a schedule of payments: the first payment of $4912 was due within two days, following which defendants were required to make four weekly $614 payments, the first of which was due by February 1 and the last of which was to be paid by February 22. The judgment also declared that so long as defendants complied with the payment schedule, they would be entitled to remain in the premises but, under no circumstances, could defendants remain past March 31, 2018. The judgment authorized issuance of a warrant of removal upon defendants' default of the judgment's terms.

         Defendants failed to make the initial payment and were eventually locked out.[1] Plaintiff commenced this action in June 2018 for enforcement of the monetary aspects of the pay-and-go judgment. In response, defendants filed a counterclaim, which alleged unjust enrichment and sought nearly $9000 for having replaced a pool liner in November 2016 and other related pool costs.

         This second case was tried in October 2018. Defendant Saucedo testified the parties agreed or understood that the pool charges would be credited against the purchase price at closing or would constitute an offset against any rent due. Plaintiff testified the lease agreement imposed on defendants an obligation to replace the pool liner or to maintain the property and, in any event, plaintiff was not unjustly enriched.

         At the trial's conclusion, the judge rendered an oral decision in which he implicitly found plaintiff – but not defendant Saucedo – credible. The judge determined that had defendants believed they were entitled to reimbursement for the pool charges that claim should have been asserted as a set off against the rent plaintiff claimed due during the summary dispossess action and at the time the pay-and-go judgment was negotiated. Because they didn't raise this issue, the judge rejected defendants' counterclaim.

         In later denying defendants' motion for a new trial, the judge iterated his view that the parties had reached an accord and satisfaction, which was embodied in the pay-and-go judgment, and that all their rights and liabilities concerning the tenancy were then fixed.[2] He also again spoke about his findings, reiterating he did ...

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