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State of New Jersey v. Tri-Way Kars, Inc.

402 N.J. Super. 215, 953 A.2d 766 (App. Div. 2008)

CONSUMER FRAUD ACT; JURISDICTION — Although municipal courts are granted statutory authority to hold proceedings for the collection and enforcement of penalties under the Consumer Fraud Act, municipal courts, in the first place, do not have jurisdiction to assess penalties under the Act.

The State filed a complaint against a used car dealer in a municipal court, alleging consumer fraud under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). The dealer had allegedly received a balance due from a consumer on a used car purchase when the dealer did not have clear title to the car. The dealer was found guilty of violating the CFA and was ordered to pay fines and restitution. The dealer appealed the finding to the lower court, which held that the municipal court had jurisdiction to hear the consumer fraud charge. The dealer appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed on jurisdictional grounds. It found that the CFA’s provision granting municipal courts jurisdiction over proceedings for the collection and enforcement of penalties did not grant a municipal court original jurisdiction to assess penalties. Additionally, the Court found that the CFA’s provision which limits municipal court jurisdiction over CFA cases to municipal courts where the defendant is located or where the fraud was committed governs over general statutory authority granted to assignment judges to refer certain cases to a central municipal court. In addition, it found the complaint filed by the State was inadequate and warranted discharge. The Court found that the complaint did not state essential facts other than the date of offense and the identity of alleged perpetrator, that it was not on an approved form, that it should have been in the name of the county director of consumer affairs seeking relief under the CFA, and that it did not give adequate notice to the perpetrator as to what it had done.

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