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Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corporation v. Hunt

LT-43347-02 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2003)

FORECLOSURE; LEASES—A buyer at a foreclosure sale cannot compel a tenant of the property to testify about its occupancy because that would constitute compelled testimony in violation of New Jersey’s forfeiture statute.

A bank obtained title to real property by way of foreclosure. The bank filed an eviction complaint against a tenant of the property. In order to establish the terms of the lease, the bank sought to compel the tenant to testify. The bank claimed that without the tenant’s testimony, it would not be able to determine the terms of the tenant’s occupancy of the property. The lower court, in a matter of first impression, found that the forfeiture statute applied to this eviction action and that the tenant was not compelled to testify to prove the bank’s case. The forfeiture statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:81-6, states that a person cannot be compelled by his or her adversary to testify in any civil case in any court when the lawsuit seeks to recover a penalty or enforce a forfeiture against that individual. The lower court found that the statute, by its terms, applied to all civil actions, including eviction proceedings. It also found that the bank’s attempt to terminate the tenancy and regain possession of the property constituted an attempt to enforce a forfeiture because the bank’s goal was to have the tenant forfeit her right to possession. It concluded that the tenant could not be compelled by the bank to testify on the bank’s behalf to forfeit her right of possession to the property. The court noted that tenant might need to testify so as rebut the bank’s claims after the bank established its prima facie case, but the tenant was not required, under the statute, to help the bank make its case.

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