Many people first learn that they have a default judgment from NJ Special Civil Part when they receive a notice of wage garnishment out of the blue one day, or visit an ATM machine and find their account drained by the judgment creditor. Or perhaps you’ve found the house of your dreams and submitted a contract to purchase, only to find via the title search that an old judgment is “parked” in court against you.
The good news is that there are ways to vacate these old default judgments. One of the best defenses is to prove to the Court that you were never served with the original Complaint. In New Jersey Special Civil Part, the court itself serves the complaint, via both regular and certified mail, return receipt requested. If you never sign for the certified mail, but the regular mail copy is not returned to the Court as “undeliverable,” you are considered served and a default will be entered against you in 35 days if you fail to answer the Complaint. Thus, “dodging” or refusing the certified mail does not prevent you from being defaulted if the regular mail copy is not returned to the Court as undeliverable.
It’s very common for complaints to be served at addresses where you were no longer living. However, the judge isn’t likley to “take your word for it.” Objective proof, such as change of adddress on driver’s license, electric/utility bills, and other proofs can really help bolster your argument that you were not living at the addresss at the time the Complaint was served.
For old judgments, this is sometimes difficult. I am now representing a client who was forced to leave an apartment building in Bergen County in 2009 when the housing inspector condemned the building due to a burst pipe and water damage. All of the tenants were forced to leave until the landlord brought the building up to code.
My client had no paperwork or proof that the building had had these issues years ago, and a junk debt buyer had recently purchased the old default judgment against him and filed a wage garnishment to collect upon same.
Once hired, I phoned the town’s Building Inspector and requested that he search the municipal records for violation records and permits etc. that had been filed against that building address in year 2009. I completed an OPRA request for same (OPRA stands for “Open Public Records Act,” and is essentially NJ’s state version of the Freedom of Information Act).
BINGO! A mountain of violations and notices that the building had been condemned and tenants ordered to leave arrived in my firm’s mailbox a few days later. There was no way the judgment creditor could prove my client received the Complaint, as he and the other tenants had been ordered to leave the building 6 weeks before the Complaint was served. This is the kind of “iron-clad” proof that virtually assures a default judgment will be vacated.
The other good news is that once a judgment this old is vacated, the case will essentially “start over” and plaintiff will have to litigate and prove the debt. On old debts, this is often virtually impossible, as paperwork and billing statements etc. often disappear over the years.
Give me a call today at 908-782-5313 to discuss vacating your old default judgments. Even if your default is not a candidate for being vacated, we can often help you file for bankruptcy and discharge your liability for the judgment if all else fails. Don’t go it alone- call us today.