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New Century Financial Services, Inc. v. Dennegar

New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division
928 A.2d 48 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2007)


Facts

New Century Financial Services, Inc. (plaintiff), a debt collector, brought an action against Lee Dennegar (defendant) to recover a balance of $14,752.93 owed on a credit card issued in Dennegar’s name by AT&T Universal. AT&T issued the credit card in February of 2001. Dennegar alleged that he did not know about the credit-card account. Dennegar said that between 1999 and 2003 he lived with Mark Knutson and had allowed Knutson to manage the household’s finances. Dennegar let Knutson open Dennegar’s mail, handle the household’s bills, and write checks on Dennegar’s checking account for Dennegar’s signature. Dennegar also let Knutson sign Dennegar’s name to checks. Dennegar admitted that some of the charges on the AT&T credit card were for purchases that Dennegar would typically let Knutson make for the household. Periodic payments were made toward the credit-card balance in 2002. However, when Knutson died in 2003, the account was in default. Dennegar tried to avoid liability for the credit-card debt, asserting that he only learned after Knutson’s death that Knutson had incurred the obligations in Dennegar’s name. Dennegar also asserted that holding him responsible for the balance due on the account would be improper under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). The trial court found that Dennegar had a poor memory and may have entered the credit relationship with AT&T himself. But the court further found that even if Dennegar had not personally opened the AT&T account, Dennegar had authorized Knutson to manage the household’s financial affairs, which included opening the AT&T account and using the AT&T credit card. The trial court entered judgment in New Century’s favor for the full amount of the debt, and Dennegar appealed to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Fisher, J.)

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