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New Jersey Highway Authority v. Johnson

Decided: April 26, 1955.


Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jayne, J.A.D.


The plaintiff, a body corporate and politic of this State, determined that the acquisition of certain lands of the defendants situate in the Town of Bloomfield, in the County of Essex, were reasonably necessary for the construction of the Garden State Parkway. In the pursuit of its authorized governmental functions it was obliged in the absence of mutual agreement to acquire the defendants' lands by the exercise of its power of eminent domain and it instituted the present action to effectuate that purpose.

The condemnation commissioners awarded the defendants the sum of $77,000 as compensation, which the plaintiff deemed to be exorbitant and from which determination the

plaintiff appealed. On appeal the trial jury fixed the sum of $57,000 as just compensation to the defendants for their deprivation. The latter award has aggrieved the defendants, and they present to us five argumentative reasons why the judgment should be reversed and a new trial ordered.

Counsel for the appellants propose that the trial judge committed prejudicial error in embodying in his instructions to the jury the following request to charge submitted to him on behalf of the plaintiff.

"5. The property being condemned in these proceedings comprises 7.86 acres and this has been agreed upon between the parties. The tract originally contained 10.16 acres and the difference between these two figures is accounted for by the filing of a map by the owner with the municipality and the delineation of streets thereon. That I charge."

To ascertain definitely the land sought to be procured by the plaintiff we initially consult the descriptive information necessarily supplied by the complaint. There we discover that the property is identified as parcels 4A, 4B, and 4C as indicated on an attached plan entitled "New Jersey Highway Authority, Garden State Parkway, Section 2, From Main St., Paterson, Passaic County, to Belleville Ave., Bloomfield, Essex County, Parcels 4A, 4B & 4C, Town of Bloomfield, Essex County, Scales as indicated, May 1953."

In further particularization, parcel 4A is stated to represent lots Nos. 90 to 106, inclusive, as so designated on a map entitled "Map of Povershon Hills, Property of Walter Johnson, Situated in the Town of Bloomfield, N.J.," containing 126,267 square feet; parcel 4B, lots known on the Povershon Hills map as Nos. 55 to 78 inclusive (excepting No. 63), embracing 157,066 square feet; and parcel 4C, lots Nos. 79 to 88 inclusive likewise exhibited on the same map, containing 58,666 square feet; together with all right, title and interest that Walter Johnson, Jr., the defendant, may have in and to Newport Drive, Byrd Avenue, Pilch Street, and the former Morris Canal adjoining the premises so described.

It is significant to observe that informationally the same description numerically indicating the lots and specifically

designating the streets as shown on the Povershon map was attached as "Schedule A" to the pretrial order to which counsel for the respective parties subscribed. Certainly the court, the jury and counsel were definitely aware of the lands subjected to condemnation.

The jurors availed themselves of the opportunity personally to view the property and visualize its natural characteristics, the better to enable them to understand the testimony. Everyone understood that as delineated on both maps there were in all 52 lots of an aggregate area of 7.85 acres, and that of the total acreage of 10.16 an area in all of 2.31 acres was within the boundaries of the platted streets denominated as Byrd Avenue and Newport Drive.

With equal assurance derived from our examination of the testimony adduced at the trial, it can be stated that all concerned understood the lineations of the entire tract, the dimensions of the delineated lots, their frontage on the platted streets, the incomplete and partial improvement of the designated streets and the general nature and extent of the improvements already installed therein. Every witness appears to have shared the belief that the most valuable use to which the lands could in the immediate present or in reasonable anticipation in the future be adapted was for the erection thereon of one-family residences.

It is noticeable also that the trial judge instructed the jurors that they were privileged to take into consideration the improvements on the land as components of its value on the stated date.

And so, in the respects thus far discussed we fail to detect any cause for confusion in the minds of the jury prejudicial to the appellants.

But we must recognize the core of the appellants' first point, which is that the portion of the court's charge here impugned in effect directed the jury to determine the value of only 7.85 acres instead of a tract of land of 10.16 acres, thus erroneously depriving the defendants of the opportunity to have the jury consider and ...

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