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In re Application of Walter H. Freygang

Decided: June 28, 1957.


Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.


This case comes before the court on an application under N.J.S.A. 1:7-4 seeking the judicial annulment of chapter 146, Laws of 1956 (N.J.S. 2 A:42-56 et seq.), which authorizes certain municipalities to adopt rent control ordinances. The applicants claim the act is a special law regulating the internal affairs of a municipality or county, and that it was not duly passed by the Legislature or otherwise made effective by law in the manner required by the Constitution (Const. 1947, Art. IV, Sec. VII, pars. 8 and 10) and the implementing statutes (N.J.S.A. 1:6-1 et seq.).

A major portion of the applicants' brief and argument is devoted to an exposition of substantive as well as technical deficiencies in the passage of the act. We note, preliminarily, the limited nature of this proceeding. The statute invoked by the applicants, N.J.S.A. 1:7-1 et seq. , permits an attack only upon the procedure of making laws, "on the machinery of enactment," and not upon the constitutional validity of their provisions. In re Borg , 123 N.J.L. 104, 106 (Sup. Ct. 1939); In re An Act Concerning Alcoholic Beverages , 130 N.J.L. 123, 124 (Sup. Ct. 1943). Tested by this limitation, the following issues argued by the applicants in support

of their claim of the unconstitutionality of L. 1956, c. 146, are not justiciable in this case:

(1) The act embraces more than one object, and those objects are not expressed in its title, contrary to Const. 1947, Art. IV, Sec. VII, par. 4.

(2) The act includes matter not properly a part of a special or local law, contrary to Const. 1947, Art. IV, Sec. VII, par. 10.

(3) The act improperly revives a prior law (the State Rent Control Act of 1953, N.J.S. 2 A:42-14 et seq.), and the administrative regulations thereunder, by reference to its title only, contrary to Const. 1947, Art. IV, Sec. VII, par. 5.

In order better to understand the statute under consideration, a brief summary of rent control enactments since the expiration of federal controls on July 31, 1953 is indicated. Deeming it imperative that there be state rent control when the federal act expired, the Legislature, in view of the continuing housing shortage in certain areas, enacted the State Rent Control Act of 1953, L. 1953, c. 216. That law provided that rent control was to be operative in any municipality whose governing body adopted a resolution reciting that a housing space shortage existed and rent control was required for the protection, safety, health and general welfare of the inhabitants. Section 28 (N.J.S. 2 A:42-41). The constitutionality of the 1953 act was upheld in Jamouneau v. Harner , 16 N.J. 500 (1954), certiorari denied 349 U.S. 904, 75 S. Ct. 580, 99 L. Ed. 1241 (1955). And see Brookchester, Inc., v. Ligham , 17 N.J. 460 (1955); Stuyvesant Town, Inc., v. Ligham , 17 N.J. 473 (1955). The act was originally scheduled to expire on December 31, 1954, L. 1953, c. 216, § 38, but the date was by amendment extended to June 30, 1956. L. 1954, c. 260, § 12 (N.J.S. 2 A:42-51). The latter statute provided that rent control thereunder was to be operative only in a municipality which on December 20, 1954 had in full force and effect a resolution theretofore adopted that rent control was required. The governing body of any such municipality might rescind such resolution at any time, but rent control could not thereafter be reinstated. L. 1954, c. 260, § 11 (N.J.S. 2 A:42:54). The Supreme Court in

Addiss v. Logan Corp. , 23 N.J. 142 (1957), upheld the constitutionality of the 1954 amendatory legislation.

As the date for the expiration of state rent control approached in 1956, the governing bodies of some 35 municipalities, convinced that a housing emergency still existed in their respective areas, became very much concerned over the possible effects of the lifting of controls. They therefore (pursuant to Const. 1947, Art. IV, Sec. VII, par. 10, and N.J.S.A. 1:6-10) individually petitioned the Legislature for the passage of special laws authorizing them to adopt local rent control ordinances. Art. IV, Sec. VII, par. 10 provides:

"Upon petition by the governing body of any municipal corporation formed for local government, or of any county, and by vote of two-thirds of all the members of each house, the Legislature may pass private, special or local laws regulating the internal affairs of the municipality or county. The petition shall be authorized in a manner to be prescribed by general law and shall specify the general nature of the law sought to be passed. Such law shall become operative only if it is adopted by ordinance of the governing body of the municipality or county or by vote of the legally qualified voters thereof. The Legislature shall prescribe in such law or by general law the method of adopting such law, and the manner in which the ordinance of adoption may be enacted or the vote taken, as the case may be."

N.J.S.A. 1:6-10 through 1:6-16 prescribes the procedure to be followed in initiating and submitting a petition to the Legislature for the passage of a private, special or local law regulating the internal affairs of a municipality or county. It is not denied that many of the municipalities failed to comply with these requirements. The applicants claim, on the basis of their examination of the files in the Secretary of State's office, that some municipalities filed their petitions with the General Assembly, some with the Senate, two with both houses of the Legislature, and six filed no petitions whatsoever. See N.J.S.A. 1:6-10, 1:6-15, 1:6-16. Further, a number of municipalities did not file with the Legislature a certified copy of the ordinance authorizing the filing of

their petitions. N.J.S.A. 1:6-16. Some failed to file proof of publication of a notice of intention to apply for the passage of such a law, N.J.S.A. 1:6-15, 1:6-16, 1:6-1. Only four municipalities, it is claimed, caused bills to be prepared to carry out the purposes of their petitions.

The Assembly Minutes of June 28, 1956 show the receipt of 30 separate petitions for special rent control acts. These, together with such bills as accompanied them, were referred to the Judiciary Committee under suspension of rules, with the direction that they not be printed. The Senate Journal for the same day makes no reference to the receipt of any petitions, but shows that 22 rent control bills were introduced on behalf of as many separate municipalities. The bills were given a second reading and then referred to the Committee on State, County and Municipal Government. At no time subsequent to the reference of the petitions and bills to it did the Assembly Judiciary Committee report thereon. Nor did the Senate Committee on State, County and Municipal Government report on the 22 bills.

What happened next was that on July 2, 1956 a "Notice of Intention to Apply for the Passage of a Special Law" was published in the newspapers of the several counties where the interested municipalities were located. Appended to the notice were the names of six assemblymen, none of whom had any official connection with the petitioning municipalities. The notice announced that the general object of the proposed law was "to authorize the municipalities wherein rent control was in effect and operation on June 30, 1956 and which have or shall have petitioned the Legislature for special laws, respectively, to authorize the adoption of rent control ordinances therein." The special law was to be inoperative in a municipality until adopted by ordinance, but no referendum was required. The law, as well as any ordinance adopted by its authority, was to ...

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