New Jersey Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court, Holds Oral Argument Required on Opposed Motion for Final Judgment on Tax Sale Certificate

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently reversed a lower court and held that the court was required to hold oral argument on an opposed motion for final judgment foreclosing a tax sale certificate.  See Clarksboro, LLC v. Kronenberg, 2019 WL 2127274 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. May 16, 2019).  In the case, plaintiff brought an action to foreclose a tax sale certificate in 2016.  It named defendant because defendant held a prior tax sale certificate on the property.  Defendant filed an appearance but did not answer.  In 2017, plaintiff moved for final judgment.  Defendant opposed the motion and sought a temporary stay of the action.  Defendant argued that it had previously foreclosed on its tax sale certificate and actually owned the property, and was planning to sell it as soon as it could remediate “extensive environmental problems.”  Defendant also requested oral argument on the motion.  On January 10, 2018, the trial court entered final judgment without holding oral argument, stating that “[d]efendant has not paid the concurrent property taxes although it completed its own foreclosure and has held an unrecorded ownership interest for the past sixteen months since May 2016. Further, [p]laintiff argues that [d]efendant is a large investment fund with financial ability to redeem the tax lien, and that it could easily redeem the tax lien and preserve its interest.”  The order further stated: “Plaintiff did not request oral argument. Defendant opposed and requested oral argument. The court did not hear oral argument pursuant to Palombi v. Palombi, 414 N.J. Super. 274, 997 A.2d 1139 (App. Div. 2010).”

On appeal, the Court reversed.  It held that Rule 1:6-2(d) states that “[i]f the motion involves pretrial discovery or is directly addressed to the calendar, the request [for oral argument] shall be considered only if accompanied by a statement of reasons and shall be deemed denied unless the court otherwise advises counsel prior to the return day. As to all other motions, the request shall be granted as of right.” (emphasis added).  The Palombi decision cited by the trial court refers to a rule in the Family Part that states that oral argument on substantive motions is not required.  Thus, the Court found that the trial court’s citation to Palombi was “insufficient” because this action is governed by Rule 1:6-2, not the Family Part rule.  The Court further found that the trial court “did not provide a case-specific reason for denying oral argument when granting plaintiff’s opposed motion to enter judgment.” Based on this reason alone, the Court reversed the trial court’s order granting final judgment.  Defendant also argued that the trial court’s failure to inform the parties of the January 10 return date was reversible error because defendant had the right to redeem plaintiff’s tax sale certificate until the date of final judgment.  Thus, because defendant did not know when final judgment could have been entered, it did not know its deadline to redeem.  Although the Court agreed that the trial court should have informed defendant of the return date, “this issue was not raised until oral argument before us, [and] we do not decide the matter on that basis.”

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com, Michael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com, or Dylan Goetsch at dgoetsch@riker.com.