Articles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court

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In this case, the issue this case posed to the New Jersey Supreme Court was presented by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit: whether, under New Jersey law, a tax sale certificate purchaser holds a tax lien. In 1998, plaintiff Princeton Office Park, L.P. purchased a 220,000 square foot commercial building on thirty-seven acres of land in the Township of Lawrence. Princeton Office Park did not satisfy its real estate tax obligation to the Township of Lawrence. By 2005, Princeton Office Park owed the Township of Lawrence in back taxes and unpaid penalties. The Township conducted a public auction of municipal tax liens. Defendant Plymouth Park Tax Services, LLC bid on a tax sale certificate for Princeton Office Park’s property. As the owner of the tax sale certificate following the public auction, Plymouth Park paid municipal real estate taxes and charges for Princeton Office Park’s property through the second quarter of 2008. By operation of law, Plymouth Park’s additional payments were added to the sum required for Princeton Office Park to redeem the tax sale certificate owned by Plymouth Park. The redemption amount accrued interest at a rate of eighteen percent following the sale. In 2007, Plymouth Park filed a tax lien foreclosure action against Princeton Office Park seeking to enjoin Princeton Office Park from exercising any right of redemption of the certificate, and requesting a declaration that Plymouth Park was the owner in fee simple of the disputed property. The Chancery Division entered an order establishing a deadline by which Princeton Office Park could redeem the certificate. While Plymouth Park’s foreclosure action was pending in the Chancery Division, Princeton Office Park filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. Plymouth Park filed an initial proof of claim in the Bankruptcy Court, citing “taxes” as the basis for its claim. Plymouth Park then objected to Princeton Office Park’s Plan of Reorganization. The United States Bankruptcy Court ruled in favor of Princeton Office Park. The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey affirmed, substantially adopting the reasoning of the United States Bankruptcy Court. The District Court construed the Tax Sale Law to confer on the purchaser of a tax sale certificate a lien, but not a lien that would permit the holder of the certificate to collect unpaid taxes owed to the municipality. Plymouth Park appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The New Jersey Supreme Court answered the Third Circuit's question in the affirmative: the purchaser of a tax sale certificate possesses a tax lien on the encumbered property. View "In re: Princeton Office Park v. Plymouth Park Tax Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cheryl Hersh worked for defendant County of Morris. The County rented approximately sixty-five parking spaces for its employees in the Cattano Garage, a private parking garage containing several hundred parking spaces located approximately two blocks from Hersh’s office. Although she did not have sufficient seniority to park in a county-owned lot located adjacent to her building, the County granted Hersh permission to park in one of the rented spots, gave her a scan card so she could enter the garage, and instructed her to park on the third level. Shortly after Hersh parked her car and exited the structure, she was struck by a motor vehicle while crossing a public street between the garage and her office. Hersh suffered significant injuries. Hersh filed for workers' compensation benefits. The judge concluded Hersh's injuries were compensable, finding that under New Jersey case law, parking lots provided or designated for employee use are part of the employer's premises for purposes of workers' compensation. The Appellate Division affirmed. The County appealed. The Supreme Court reversed: because the County did not control the garage where Hersh parked, the route of ingress and egress from the parking garage to her office, or the public street where she was injured, and did not expose her to any special or additional hazards, Hersh's injury occurred outside of the employer's premises and therefore was not compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act. View "Hersh v. County of Morris" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ricardo Maldonado owned a business purchasing homes from financially distressed owners, negotiating with lenders, and repairing and selling the homes. Anthony D'Agostino saw an advertisement for Maldonado's company and contacted Maldonado in 2008, at which time the estimated fair market value of plaintiffs' property was $480,000. The parties verbally agreed that plaintiffs would pay Maldonado, and he would repair the property and bring the mortgage current using rental payments. The documents Maldonado prepared and plaintiffs signed created a trust naming Maldonado the sole trustee. An option allowed plaintiffs to recover title by paying Maldonado $400,000 within one year. In March 2008, plaintiffs executed a quitclaim deed transferring full interest in the property to Maldonado. The deed stated that Maldonado paid $360,000 for the interest, though he actually paid nothing. Over the following months, Maldonado spent his own money on mortgage payments, outstanding taxes, and repairs. Anthony D'Agostino later offered $40,000 to regain title. Maldonado declined, informing plaintiffs they could repurchase the property for $400,000. Plaintiffs filed a complaint, alleging a violation of the CFA. The trial court found that plaintiffs had sustained their burden with respect to the CFA violation since the transaction was based on misleading documents that gave rise to an "unconscionable commercial practice." The trial court voided the conveyance to Maldonado, restored title to plaintiffs, awarded treble damages and attorneys' fees. The parties appealed, and the Appellate Division remanded only for a recalculation of plaintiffs' damages. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court correctly found Maldonado's execution of the transactions at issue gave rise to an unconscionable commercial practice, and that that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its calculation and subsequent awarding of damages. View "D'Agostino v. Maldonado" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were tenants in apartment complexes owned or managed by the corporate defendants. Plaintiffs' leases included a provision providing that, if attorneys' service were required due to the tenant's failure to pay rent, then the tenant must pay $400 in attorneys' fees if a court appearance was required and $200 if the matter was resolved without a court appearance. The tenant was also required to pay actual attorneys' fees in excess of $400. Eviction actions were brought against each plaintiff for the non-payment of rent. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the corporate defendants and the individual defendant alleging violations of the Anti-Eviction Act, violations of the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), and negligence. The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case was the sufficiency of plaintiffs' pleading as it related to claims against corporate and individual defendants for consumer fraud and negligence based on lease provisions that imposed fixed attorneys’ fees on tenants that were unrelated to in-house counsel’s actual fee to evict. Applying the indulgent standard used to review motions for dismissal under Rule 4:6-2(e), the Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts to state causes of action against the corporate defendants for consumer fraud and negligence. Plaintiffs have not, however, alleged sufficient facts to support a consumer fraud or negligence claim against the individual defendant. View "Green v. Morgan Properties" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Franklin Avenue, LLC forwarded a letter to the trial court judge and its opponent, Willingboro Mall, Ltd. announcing that the case had been "successfully settled" and outlined the purported terms of the settlement. Franklin's attorney sent a separate letter to Willingboro stating that he held $100,000 in his attorney trust account to fund the settlement, that Franklin had executed a release, and that the monies would be disbursed when Willingboro filed a stipulation of dismissal in the foreclosure action and delivered a mortgage discharge on the mall property. Willingboro rejected the settlement terms and refused to sign a release or to discharge the mortgage. Franklin filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement and attached certifications from its attorney and the mediator that revealed communications made between the parties during the mediation. Willingboro did not move to dismiss the motion, or strike the certifications, based on violations of the mediation-communication privilege. Instead, in opposition to the motion to enforce, Willingboro requested an evidentiary hearing and the taking of discovery, and filed a certification from its manager. The trial court ordered the taking of discovery and scheduled a hearing to determine whether an enforceable agreement had been reached during mediation. The issues on appeal to the Supreme Court reduced to: (1) whether Rule 1:40-4(i) required a settlement agreement reached at mediation to be reduced to writing and signed at the time of mediation; and (2) whether plaintiff waived the privilege that protects from disclosure any communication made during the course of mediation. The Supreme Court concluded that Plaintiff expressly waived the mediation-communication privilege and disclosed privileged communications. The oral settlement agreement reached by the parties was upheld. Going forward, however, a settlement that is reached at mediation but not reduced to a signed written agreement will not be enforceable. View "Willingboro Mall, LTD. v. 240/242 Franklin Avenue, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Norfolk Southern Railway Company owned and operated Croxton Yard, a large intermodal freight facility. Business was expected to grow; the railroad's future plans included the Crescent Corridor project, which would expand rail service from ports in New York and New Jersey across the United States and into Mexico. In 2004, Norfolk Southern decided to expand the yard by acquiring three adjacent properties, including one owned by defendant Intermodal Properties, LLC. Intermodal rejected Norfolk Southern's offers, and the railroad initiated condemnation proceedings through a petition filed with the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which referred the contested case to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Intermodal proposed to use the property as a parking facility for the Secaucus Junction passenger rail station, a use it contended was more compatible with the public interest. The ALJ precluded Intermodal from invoking the prior public use doctrine because the property was not being used for a public purpose and was not zoned to permit a parking facility. Intermodal succeeded in having the property rezoned, but the ALJ deemed this irrelevant since Intermodal presented no evidence that any entity was willing to enter into a contract for public parking. The ALJ also disagreed with Intermodal's contention that the statutory provision permitting a taking only "as exigencies of business may demand" required the railroad to demonstrate an urgent need. The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court centered on two statutory provisions relating to the eminent domain power vested in public utilities and railroads. The Court found that Norfolk Southerns proposed use met the requirement of N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.7 that the taking be "not incompatible with the public interest." Intermodal could not invoke the prior public use doctrine because it lacked the power to condemn and its proposed use was neither prior nor public. As used in N.J.S.A. 48:12-35.1, "exigencies of business" did not necessitate an urgent need for land in order to justify a taking, instead it limits a railroad's power to condemn to those circumstances where the general needs or ordinary course of business require it. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Intermodal Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant New Vornado/Saddle Brook, LLC owned a tract of land that was located in East Brunswick's HC-2 (General Highway Commercial District) zone. The property included one vacant free-standing building which New Vornado sought to convert into a gym. Because a for-profit health club was treated as a conditional use in the zone, the gym was required to comply with the relevant conditions established in the zoning ordinance, particularly that the boundary of the lot on which the gym was to be situated could not be located within 500 feet of any residence. On the other side of the street and behind other existing commercial buildings, there was a small residential neighborhood 1,200 feet away from New Vornado's property, but the edge was within 500 feet of a residence. New Vornado filed an application seeking a conditional use variance to enable it to open the gym. Plaintiff TSI East Brunswick, LLC (TSI), the owner of a health club located across the street from New Vornado's property, was the principal objector to New Vornado's application. Plaintiff filed suit to challenge the local Zoning Board's approval of New Vornado's variance. The trial court upheld the Board's decision, finding that New Vornado had met its burden of proving that its proposed plan satisfied both the positive and negative criteria and that TSI had failed to demonstrate that the Board's grant of a conditional use variance was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. TSI appealed; the Appellate Division affirmed. After its review, the Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division and affirmed the Zoning Board's decision. View "TSI East Brunswick, LLC v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment of Twp. of East Brunswick" on Justia Law

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Defendants Harvey and Phyllis Karan owned a beachfront home which had a panoramic view of the beach and ocean. Plaintiff Borough of Harvey Cedars sought an easement over more than one quarter of the Karans' property to build a storm-protection dune which would invariably obstruct the Karans' view. When the Karans withheld consent, the Borough used its eminent domain power to acquire the easement. Since the parties could not agree on just compensation, the Borough filed an action in the Law Division. The Karans rejected a three-member panel of appointed commissioners' award and demanded a jury trial. At the end of trial, the court charged the jury that the Karans were entitled to "just compensation," defined as the difference between the fair market value of the property immediately before the taking and the fair market value of the remaining property immediately after the taking. It explained that fair market value included those features that enhanced the property, as well as those that diminished it, but it specifically prohibited the jury from considering any project-related general benefit enjoyed by other residents of the Borough. The jury awarded the Karans $375,000. The issue of what constituted "just compensation" was before the Supreme Court on appeal. The Court concluded after its review that a property's fair market value should be used as the benchmark in computing "just compensation": non-speculative, reasonably calculable benefits that increase the property's value at the time of the taking regardless of whether those benefits are enjoyed to a lesser or greater degree by others in the community. Because the Borough was prohibited from presenting evidence of such benefits, and the trial court erroneously charged the jury as to the calculation method for just compensation, the Court remanded for a new trial. View "Borough of Harvey Cedars v. Karan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kane Properties, LLC contracted to purchase a piece of property in Hoboken zoned for industrial use. It applied for the necessary variances to construct a residential building. The Zoning Board granted the requested variances. The principal objector to plaintiff's proposal, Skyline Condominimum Association, Inc. appealed to the Hoboken City Council. Before the hearing, Skyline's attorney accepted an appointment as the City Council's attorney. Plaintiff objected to the attorney's participation in the appeal, and the attorney recused himself. Council reversed the zoning board's decision. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the attorney's involvement in the Skyline appeal in spite of a conflict of interest had irreparably tainted the City Council’s decision. The trial court affirmed the City Council’s decision. Plaintiff then appealed to the Appellate Division. After applying an appearance-of-impropriety standard and finding a conflict of interest, the panel concluded that the attorney's participation in the appeal tainted the City Council’s action. The matter was remanded to the City Council for a proceeding de novo. But Plaintiff filed a petition for certification to the Supreme Court, arguing that a remand back to the City Council was inappropriate. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court set aside the City Council's decision because the Court found it was tainted by its new attorney's conflict of interest. View "Kane Properties, LLC v. City of Hoboken" on Justia Law

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The Town of Kearny hired Brandt-Kuybida Architects to design and plan the construction of a new public safety facility. Construction began in 1994. The general contractor, Belcor Construction, signed a "Certificate of Substantial Completion" in late 1995. Approximately ten days later, the architects signed the same Certificate. The Certificate defined the date of substantial completion in language similar to that of the construction contract. The signatories to the Certificate, however, left the "date of issuance" and the "date of completion" of the project blank. In Spring1996, the Town's Construction Official issued the first Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO), limited to the police section of the building. Structural defects in the facility surfaced shortly after the Kearny Police Department took occupancy, including leaks, buckled tiles and cracks in the walls. By 2007, ceilings in the facility had fallen and pipes had separated and pulled, all of which were attributed to uneven settlement. The Town never issued a final certificate of occupancy and on February 8, 2007, had the building vacated. Belcor initiated arbitration proceedings against the Town because the Town withheld final payment under the contract. Belcor and the Town resolved their dispute by Stipulation of Settlement. Both the Stipulation of Settlement and the related Town of Kearny Resolution identified the date of substantial completion of the facility as February 1, 1996. The issues before the Supreme Court were: (1) when could a building be considered substantially complete for purposes of calculating the ten-year period of the statute of repose; and (2) whether the Comparative Negligence Act and the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law authorized the allocation of fault to defendants who obtained dismissals pursuant to the statute of repose. The Supreme Court concluded after review that (1) the ten year period of the statute of repose started when the first Temporary Certificate of Occupancy was issued for the facility; and (2) when the claims against a defendant are dismissed on statute of repose grounds, fault may be apportioned to the dismissed defendant under the Comparative Negligence Act and the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law. View "Townof Kearny v. Brandt" on Justia Law