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Fraser v. Township of Teaneck

Decided: April 26, 1948.

DOROTHY A. FRASER ET AL., PROSECUTORS,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF TEANECK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, ETC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS



On certiorari.

For the prosecutors, Louis G. Morten.

For the defendant Township of Teaneck, Donald M. Waesche.

For the defendant Estate of William Walter Phelps, L. Stanley Ford.

For the intervenor, Garden State Developers, Inc., Warren Dixon, Jr.

Before Justices Donges, Colie and Eastwood.

Eastwood

The opinion of the court was delivered by

EASTWOOD, J. On December 9th, 1947, a writ of certiorari was allowed to review the legality vel non of a resolution adopted on November 18th, 1947, by the Township Council of the Township of Teaneck, providing for an exchange of 152 vacant lots acquired by the Township of Teaneck by tax title foreclosure for certain tracts of land owned by the Estate of William Walter Phelps. Previous to the resolution of November 18th, 1947, the Township Council of Teaneck had entered into an agreement with the Phelps Estate under date of April 15th, 1947, whereby it was agreed to exchange certain municipally owned lots for the same lands that were to be received by the township from the Phelps Estate. On December 31st, 1947, a writ of certiorari was allowed to review this agreement. A motion was made by the defendants to dismiss the writ allowed on December 9th, 1947. Decision on this motion was reserved. It was thereupon ordered that both writs in question should be argued together. Defendants rely upon the resolution of November 18th, 1947, and inasmuch as the writ allowed on December 9th, 1947, to review said resolution will be dispositive of the issue, our comments will be directed solely to it.

Although the record and exhibits before us are voluminous, the issue as we view it is a narrow one. Did the township possess legal authority to make the exchange of lands with the defendant, Estate of William Walter Phelps, and did the resolution of November 18th, 1947, authorizing the exchange comply with the requirements of the law applicable thereto? Prosecutors, who are taxpayers of the Township of Teaneck, insist that the governing body possessed no power to make the exchange complained of by the adoption of the resolution in question, it being their contention that such action could only have been lawfully exercised by submitting the matter

to the voters for their determination. Further, it is said that the action of the governing body was unconstitutional, in that it contravenes the "due process" clause and the "equal protection of the laws" provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Also, it is urged that R.S. 54:5-116 is repugnant to article III and article I, paragraph 19, of the New Jersey Constitution, in that the statute violates the constitutional provisions providing for the separation of government into three distinct departments and prohibiting the giving of any money or property to or in aid of any corporation. Finally, it is said that the value of the lands proposed to be exchanged by the Township of Teaneck to the Estate of William Walter Phelps are of greater value than the lands to be given in exchange by the Phelps Estate, thereby violating the provisions of R.S. 54:5-116. In reply, the Township of Teaneck points out that it has authority to make the exchange in question under the provisions of R.S. 54:5-116, and that additionally, it has statutory authority for its action under two other statutes namely Pamph. L. 1944, ch. 77, p. 153; R.S. 40:60-51.3; and Pamph. L. 1946, ch. 157, p. 720; R.S. 40:60-51.1, the argument being that these three statutes are in pari materia and are equally authoritative to support the township's position. Likewise, it is claimed that the proofs reveal that the lands to be acquired from the Phelps Estate are of substantially greater value than those to be given in exchange by the Township. It may be observed parenthetically that the exchange of lands was prompted by a recommendation of the Planning Board of the Township of Teaneck for public use as a park and for recreational purposes.

R.S. 54:5-116 provides for the exchange by a municipality of vacant lands acquired by it by tax title foreclosure for lands of others that it may require for park purposes within the municipality. Such exchange is conditioned by the requirement that the lands so acquired shall not be less in value than the lands of the municipality given in exchange. The statute provides for such action by the adoption of a resolution ...


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