New Jersey Appellate Division Affirms Vacation of Judgment and Dismissal of Action Eight Years After Final Judgment, Finds Plaintiff Violated FDCPA

New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently affirmed a trial court decision vacating a final judgment and dismissing a complaint despite the fact that the defendant waited eight years to bring the motion, finding that the plaintiff brought the action outside the limitations period and violated the FDCPA.  See LVNV Funding, LLC v. Deangelo, 2020 WL 3163668 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. June 15, 2020).  In 2009, plaintiff brought an action against defendant to collect on a defaulted debt.  Defendant did not respond, and plaintiff obtained a final judgment in 2010.  Defendant finally brought a motion to vacate the judgment in 2018.  The trial court found that defendant had made his last payment in 2004, which made the 2009 action untimely and a violation of the FDCPA.  The trial court further found that defendant’s eight-year delay in seeking to vacate the final judgment was “inexcusable” and that he had lied about his identity to avoid the judgment.  Nonetheless, in balancing the equities, the trial court found that “plaintiff’s breach of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act outweighed defendant’s inexcusable neglect,” and it vacated the judgment and dismissed the complaint.

On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed.  The Court noted that the case presents “some unusual circumstances and conflicting equities” and that it requires the Court to “have to choose the least blameworthy of two competing wrongs.”  After balancing the competing public policies—the FDCPA’s policy of curbing abusive debt collection practices and the State’s policy seeking finality of judgments—the Court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in vacating the final judgment.  “The [trial court] judge determined that the interest in curbing abusive collection practices outweighed the interest in the finality of judgments. In the final analysis, we cannot conclude that the choice the judge made constitutes an abuse of the discretion provided by Rule 4:50-1(f).”

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com, Michael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com, or Anthony Lombardo at alombardo@riker.com.