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Hillside Land Co. v. Township of North Bergen

Decided: May 7, 1934.

HILLSIDE LAND COMPANY, A CORPORATION, ET AL., PROSECUTORS,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF NORTH BERGEN, IN THE COUNTY OF HUDSON AND STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RESPONDENT



On writ of certiorari.

For the prosecutors, Dougal Herr.

For the respondent, Nicholas S. Schloeder.

Before Justices Case, Bodine and Donges.

Case

The opinion of the court was delivered by

CASE, J. Hillside Land Company caused the writ of certiorari to issue to review the assessments levied against its lands for benefits accruing from certain public improvements in the township of North Bergen. Approximately eighty other landowners were subsequently added by rule as prosecutors. The individual prosecutors are not separately considered. Their claims are treated in bulk.

The work, which really constituted a single major improvement, was done under four authorizing ordinances. The first, and by far the most comprehensive, was adopted July 7th, 1921, and provided for the paving of Grand avenue between the Paterson Plank road and Hoboken street. It included street widening, curbs, sidewalks and sewer and utility connections. It also included a sewer, with appurtenances, that was to be carried through an additional block of Grand avenue that lay between Hoboken street and Paterson avenue. The three succeeding ordinances all relate to work on the last named block; that of January 8th, 1925, provided for widening, that of October 22d, 1925, for establishing street grades and that of November 24th, 1925, for filling to conform to the grades so established. The work under the first ordinance was finished December 22d, 1925, and the entire improvement was completed November 27th, 1926.

The total cost, $321,969.53, was certified by the department of public works to the board of assessors of December 23d, 1931. The board of assessors thereupon functioned; and on October 5th, 1932, their assessment report was confirmed. $136,103.23 was assessed specially against the properties benefited and $185,886.30 against the township at large.

Prosecutors attack the assessments under four points. They first complain that the costs were not certified immediately

and that the assessments were not made within a reasonable time after the completion of the improvement. Vanderbilt v. Belleville, 11 N.J. Mis. R. 775, and In re Commissioners of Elizabeth, 49 N.J.L. 488, 504, rather broadly indicate that such an argument must find its force in a statutory or charter limitation. Prosecutors assert that our legislature has placed a limitation in sections 14 and 20 of article 20, Municipalities act. Pamph. L. 1917, ch. 152; 2 Cum. Supp. Comp. Stat., pp. 2199, 2200; viz., section 14: "Upon the completion of any local improvement, the board or body in charge shall immediately notify the officer or board that is charged with the duty of making the assessment for benefits * * *;" and section 20: "The officer or board charged with the duty of making assessments for benefits, when notified of the completion of a local improvement, shall examine the said work and view all lands and real estate in the vicinity of said local improvement benefited by such improvement. Said officer or board shall thereupon fix a time and place for the hearing of all persons interested * * *."

We need not consider section 20 because there was not unreasonable delay after the costs were certified to the board of assessors. That leaves the argument dependent upon the provisions of section 14. The insistence is that the word "immediately" here means, not within a reasonable time but, forthwith, directly, at once, and that there is no opportunity for judicial construction because the word "shall" imports absolute obligation, strict compliance with which must be had if the municipality is to exercise its delegated power. We do not so interpret the statute. We read a command to notify the assessment officers, and a direction that that be done immediately upon the completion of the improvement. The word "immediately" must gather its meaning from its application. It is not a word of absolute significance. It depends upon the circumstances and events in connection with which it is used. Within ...


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