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Standing is governed by N.J. Ct. R. 4:26-1, which provides that every action may be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest. There is no distinction between a party in interest and standing in New Jersey. To be entitled to sue, a party must have a sufficient stake and real adverseness with respect to the subject matter of the litigation. Additionally, a substantial likelihood of some harm visited upon the plaintiff in the event of an unfavorable decision is needed for the purposes of standing. Standing has been broadly construed in New Jersey as its courts have considered the threshold for standing to be fairly low.
The decedent was 81 and suffering from cancer when he married the 46-year-old petitioner, Lillian E. Centeno; he died, intestate, a month later. Petitioner filed a verified complaint for letters of administration upon the death of decedent. Respondent Mercedes Tabor, the decedent’s sister, filed a caveat against letters granting administration, claiming that the decedent's marriage to petitioner was a nullity under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:34-1. According to the respondent, the marriage was void because (1) the decedent was impotent, (2) he lacked the mental capacity to consent to marry, (3) there was fraud as to the essentials of marriage, and (4) there were equitable reasons to declare the marriage void. Petitioner moved to dismiss under N.J. Ct. R. 4:6-2(e), contending that the respondent lacked standing to challenge the validity of the marriage.
Did the respondent sister lack standing to challenge the validity of the marriage?
The court held that under N.J. Ct. R. 4:26-1, the sister had standing to challenge the marriage because she would inherit from the decedent's estate if the marriage was annulled and would receive nothing if it was found valid. However, only a spouse could seek an annulment based on impotence (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:34-1(c)). The sister alleged sufficient facts to support her claim under § 2A:34-1(d) that the decedent lacked the mental capacity to consent. Her claim that the marriage was based on fraud (§ 2A:34-1(d)) failed because she did not plead fraud with particularity, as required by N.J. Ct. R. 4:5-8. Since N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:34-1(f) did not bar a posthumous application for annulment, the court's inherent equity jurisdiction allowed the sister to seek to annul the marriage for equitable reasons.