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Tennessee Gas Transmission Co. v. Hirschfield

Decided: November 18, 1955.

TENNESSEE GAS TRANSMISSION COMPANY, A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
LOUIS A. HIRSCHFIELD, AND MARGOT HIRSCHFIELD, HIS WIFE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, AND THE TOWNSHIP OF MAHWAH, ETC., ET ANO., DEFENDANTS



Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clapp, S.j.a.d.

Clapp

[38 NJSuper Page 134] Plaintiff, Tennessee Gas Transmission Company, seeks to obtain, through this condemnation action, an easement across the lands of the defendant, Louis A. Hirschfield, for the purpose of laying and operating a pipe line for the transmission of natural gas. The defendants, Mr. and Mrs. Hirschfield (she may have an interest in the lands), concede that plaintiff has the power of eminent domain. Their chief contention -- here and in the court below -- is that in selecting the route for the pipe line through their

lands, plaintiff exceeds and abuses the power vested in it. The trial court found against defendants on the point, giving judgment for the plaintiff and appointing condemnation commissioners. Mr. and Mrs. Hirschfield appeal.

We are presented first with a procedural question, namely, whether, as plaintiff argues, this judgment is interlocutory and appealable only with leave of court under R.R. 2:2-3(b) (no leave was given here); or whether it is interlocutory and appealable as of right under R.R. 2:2-3(a)(3) or (4), cf. Bergen County Sewer Authority v. Borough of Little Ferry , 7 N.J. Super. 213, 218 (App. Div. 1950), dealing with former practice, appeal dismissed 5 N.J. 548 (1950); or whether it is a final judgment. Cf. City of Trenton v. Lenzner , 16 N.J. 465, 472 (1954). If it is interlocutory, the appeal should have been taken within the time provided by R.R. 1:3-1(c).

The nature of a condemnation proceeding was altered on July 1, 1953. Prior thereto, the judge before whom the proceeding was brought was a mere legislative agent; it was his duty to enter an order appointing condemnation commissioners if it appeared, first, that due notice had been given and, second, that the petition for relief disclosed on its face prima facie a power to effect the expropriation. The landowner's remedy in case of an excess or abuse of this power was: before September 15, 1948, through a writ of certiorari, Ryan v. Housing Authority of City of Newark , 125 N.J.L. 336, 342 (Sup. Ct. 1940), N.J.S.A. 20:1-8; thereafter and to November 3, 1952, through a separate proceeding in lieu of prerogative writ brought in the Superior Court, Law Division (with the same judge often called upon to review the order he himself had made appointing commissioners), Bergen County Sewer Authority v. Borough of Little Ferry , 5 N.J. 548 (1950); and thereafter to July 1, 1953, through an appeal to the Appellate Division (with the proofs, where necessary, taken in somewhat cumbersome fashion during the appeal), In re Buckeye Pipe Line Co. , 13 N.J. 385, 388 (1953).

On July 1, 1953, the amendment to N.J.S.A. 20:1-2 became effective. By the express terms of this statute the action

"for the appointment of three commissioners to fix the compensation to be paid for the taking of the property"

becomes "an action in the Superior Court" (italics added), a judicial action. Morris May Realty Corp. v. Bd., etc., County of Monmouth , 18 N.J. 269, 275 (1955). The statute continues with this explicit provision:

"In any such action, the court shall have and shall exercise its full jurisdiction, including jurisdiction to determine the right to exercise the power of eminent domain; and the court may proceed in the action in a summary manner or otherwise."

Today in a condemnation action (which is to be prosecuted as a summary action under R.R. 4:85, see R.R. 4:92-1) the court takes cognizance not only of the application for the appointment of commissioners but also of all issues that can appropriately be considered in the cause (cf. N.J. Const., Art. VI, Sec. III, par. 4), including any question as to the power to condemn or an abuse of that power. A single judgment will usually be entered appointing commissioners and disposing of these other issues; and after it is entered, no further action is required of the trial judge with respect to the cause. This, then, constitutes the "final judgment" provided for by R.R. 4:85-5.

It is true that the parties may be said to be still proceeding in the cause when they go before the commissioners. But the commissioners, after preparing their report, merely file it with the court (N.J.S.A. 20:1-10), and it is not necessary to bring it on before a judge for confirmation. Our New Jersey practice is to be contrasted with that obtaining in many jurisdictions where an order or judgment must be entered confirming the commissioners' report, see e.g., Luxton v. North River Bridge Co. , 147 U.S. 337, 13 S. Ct. 356, 37 L. Ed. 194 ...


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