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Romeo v. KNK Interiors, Inc.

A-4306-06T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008)

CONTRACTS; DEFAULTS; BREACHES; DAMAGES — A lower court cannot arbitrarily value personal property in dispute, but requires credible evidence as to the value of such property.

A decorator and a customer entered into an oral agreement for the decorator’s services. The customer was dissatisfied with the decorator’s work and sued her. After the decorator failed to answer the complaint, the customer obtained a default judgment for numerous claims of services not performed or inadequately performed, and for the return of various items of furniture which included an antique chair that the customer valued at $20,000. The judgment was entered calling for the decorator to pay about $30,000 or roughly $10,000 plus the return of the items of furniture within ten days. A writ of execution was subsequently levied on the entire amount of the decorator’s bank accounts and her car was seized and sold at a sheriff’s sale to the customer.

The decorator attempted to have the default judgment vacated, arguing that she was improperly served and that she could present a meritorious defense. She argued that she returned all of the items of furniture and that she was entitled to the fair market value of her car at roughly $20,000. She alternatively argued that since the chair was returned, the amount seized from her bank accounts had satisfied the judgment and that she should be allowed to retrieve her car for a small payment. The customer’s wife testified at a subsequent hearing that the chair was returned broken. The lower court valued the chair at $20,000 and credited that amount, plus an amount for the car, thus finding that the customer now owed the decorator approximately $35,000.

On appeal, the Appellate Division rejected the customer’s argument that the lower court arbitrarily valued the chair at $20,000 and noted that the chair’s value was listed at that amount in the customer’s complaint. On the other hand, it found that the lower court had no basis for determining the value of the car that was credited back to the decorator and remanded the issue back to the lower court. The lower court’s decision to credit the value of the chair at $20,000 to the decorator was affirmed.

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