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Macrich Associates, L.L.C. v. Pinilis

A-6420-02T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

FORECLOSURE; TAX SALES; SERVICE—Service of a tax sale foreclosure complaint can be made by mail where the property owner is deliberately avoiding personal service.

A homeowner didn’t pay real estate taxes for years and, as a result, the municipality sold tax sale certificates on the property. The purchaser of the tax liens notified the owner by mail of its intent to foreclose, and then filed a foreclosure action. Initially, the home owner was not personally served. Rather, the certificate holder served notice by regular and certified mail. The regular mailing was not returned and the certified mailing was refused. The local sheriff’s office attempts to personally serve the owner were unsuccessful.

The foreclosure action went undefended and a default judgment was entered. Six months later, the home owner moved to vacate the judgment. During a hearing that followed, a sheriff’s officer described his efforts to serve the owner. He testified that he made three unsuccessful attempts at personal service, while leaving written and telephone messages at the premises. In addition, the certificate holder’s attorney certified that when he had spoken with the owner over the telephone, the owner told him, “good luck trying to serve me.” The lower court found both witnesses to be credible and held that the home owner had engaged in a pattern of avoidance of service. Thus, the lower court concluded that diligent efforts had been made to effect personal service and that substituted service by regular and certified mail was justified. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision based on the evidence and held that service by mail was effective.

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