Denial of Request for Clarity of Court Order Does Not Equal a Frivolous Filing

In re Arno Mayer, Docket No. A-0904-21 (N.J. Super. App. Div. November 4, 2022)

Plaintiff Daniel Mayer (“Daniel”) and his brother, defendant Carl Mayer (“Carl”), were named attorneys-in-fact for their father, Arno Mayer (“Arno”).  Daniel filed a complaint against Carl, alleging that Carl took financial advantage of Arno, and that Carl should be removed as power of attorney.  Carl moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice, which was granted by the trial court.  In a written opinion attached to the Order, the judge stated, in relevant part, that Daniel was “free to pursue whatever claims he may feel he has against Carl, Arno, or Arno’s Trust in the Probate Part [of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer County].”  *2-3.

Daniel filed a motion for reconsideration and clarification, arguing that it was unclear whether the Order foreclosed his ability to file a guardianship action in the future.  Carl’s attorney alleged that this motion was frivolous under Rule 1:4-8 and N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59 in a letter to Daniel’s counsel.  Carl filed opposition to the motion along with Arno’s independent counsel.  Daniel’s motion for reconsideration and clarification was denied without oral argument.  Carl moved for sanctions against Daniel and his attorney.  Daniel and his attorney sent a letter to Carl and his attorney alleging that the motion for sanctions was itself, frivolous and vexatious, and that Daniel would file a motion for sanctions if Carl’s motion was not withdrawn.  After hearing argument, the court issued a written opinion denying Carl’s motion for sanctions, concluding that Daniel’s original motion for reconsideration and clarification was not made in bad faith or with malice.  Rather, the court found that Daniel merely sought clarity on the Order and did not attempt to have the trial court alter its decision.

On appeal, Carl argued the trial court should have imposed sanctions against Daniel, and that the trial court’s written opinion violated Rule 1:7-4, relating to required findings by courts in non-jury trials and motions.  The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Carl did not satisfy his burden in showing that Daniel’s motion for reconsideration and clarification was filed in bad faith.  Rather, the Appellate Division deferred to the trial court’s factual findings, and found the record bereft of any evidence of bad faith by Daniel.