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Tanksley v. Cook

360 N.J. Super. 63, 821 A.2d 524 (App. Div. 2003)

CONSUMER FRAUD; ATTORNEYS FEES—An award of attorneys fees under the Consumer Fraud Act can include an award for fees and costs incurred in collecting the judgment.

In a suit alleging violations of the Consumer Fraud Act, a buyer recovered treble damages from a used car dealer and was also awarded counsel fees and taxed costs. Under the Act’s fee-shifting section, “a successful claimant may recover attorneys’ fees and costs.” The buyer’s attorney “immediately embarked upon collection of the judgment,” but the dealer did not pay voluntarily. The buyer’s attorney then investigated the dealer’s assets “and sought and obtained a writ of execution.” Ultimately, the entire sum was paid to avoid towing the dealer’s vehicles from the used car lot. The buyer then sought, by motion, to recover his attorneys’ fees and costs for his post-judgment collection efforts. The lower court denied the application explaining that “there just seems to be a certain piling on aspect to it.” According to the Appellate Division, the lower court seemed to think that the buyer needed to prove some fraudulent or deceitful post-judgment conduct designed to thwart the collection process before [the buyer] could prevail on [his] application.” If so, the Appellate Division disagreed, holding that the Act’s provisions must be liberally construed and that “[t]he award of counsel fees under the act is ‘mandatory.’” According to the Court, New Jersey had “not yet had the occasion to rule on the issue of fee-shifting in the context of process to enforce judgments or in supplementary proceedings.” After reviewing “cognate federal authority,” the Court concluded “that the mandatory award of ‘reasonable attorneys’ fees, filing fees and reasonable costs of suit’ under [the Consumer Fraud Act] should include fees and costs incurred in satisfying the judgment.”

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