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State v. Williams

Decided: February 27, 1961.


Goldmann, Foley and Fulop. The opinion of the court was delivered by Foley, J.A.D.


This is a condemnation case. The State appeals from a judgment of $60,000 in favor of the landowner, Carlton Williams, entered in the Law Division on a jury verdict.

The land in question, part of a tract of 1.15 acres, is located in the Borough of Westville, Gloucester County. The entire tract has a frontage along State Highway Route 47 (Delsea Drive) and also a frontage on Hillside Avenue. The improvements on the property consist of a main building used for a gasoline service station, including garage, fuel oil station, a marine sales and showroom, and a marine equipment and repair shop; also two fuel oil storage tanks, a loading platform and a storage building. A five-room apartment is located on the second story of the main building.

The State has constructed a traffic interchange which required the taking of a frontage on Delsea Drive. The area taken is approximately one-sixth of an acre and the improvements thereon consisted of two gasoline pump islands, a telephone booth and a sign. The State, through its witnesses, conceded that, after the taking, the remaining improvements, above noted, were not suitable for use as a gasoline service station. It is also admitted by the State that the taking eliminated Delsea Drive as a means of access to the property.

To prove the value of the condemned property Williams called as expert witnesses, Harold I. Dierolf, a managing executive of a fuel oil company, and Merrill B. Boals, a real estate appraiser.

The trial court, over the objection of the State, (1) found Dierolf to be qualified to give expert testimony, (2) permitted him to testify to the value of the entire property used for gasoline station purposes prior to the taking, and (3) received in evidence Boals' evaluation of the land and buildings remaining after the taking, based in part on the sales price of another property, which the State contended was not a comparable sale. These alleged trial errors furnish the grounds of appeal.


Concededly, Dierolf was not an expert in the field of real estate appraisal. But he testified that for 17 years prior to his present occupation he had been employed by the Socony Vacuum Oil Company, and that for a five-year period, ending about 2 1/2 years before the trial, he was employed by Socony Vacuum as a "District Marketing Office Manager" of a territory covering the South Jersey area and running north to Trenton and over to Long Branch. In this capacity his work included placing valuations upon properties suitable for use as gasoline service stations, for purposes of purchase and sale by the company. During this service he had appraised 36 such properties. While he was thoroughly familiar with the various factors willing buyers and sellers would consider in evaluating properties for gasoline service station use in the area, his expertise was limited to appraising the land and improvements as a unit for such use. He did not qualify as an expert on the value of the unit as a going gasoline station business.

The State contends that this knowledge and training were insufficient to qualify Dierolf because it did not fit him to evaluate the property in accordance with what the State conceives to be the applicable legal standards. Citing Brown v. New Jersey Short Line R. Co. , 76 N.J.L. 795, 797 (E. & A. 1908), the State argues that, as said therein, the qualifying of experts on real estate values requires proof

either that they have themselves made sales or purchases of other similar lands in the neighborhood of the land in question within recent periods, or that they have knowledge of such sales by others. This statement of the law must be viewed in the context of the facts from which it evolved. The Brown case presented what the court itself termed the "narrow question" of whether the "special experience and knowledge" of the experts who gave opinions as to value on the basis of their knowledge of the consideration paid for similar lands had been "acquired through previous sales and purchases of other similar lands in the vicinity of the land in question." 76 N.J.L. , at p. 796. Obviously, the holding in Brown operates only in apposite factual situations. Otherwise persons solely qualified to appraise real estate, such as tax assessors and others, who had not bought or sold real estate previously, or had no knowledge of comparable sales, could never qualify as experts. While such previous experience and knowledge may qualify a witness, the lack of it does not necessarily disqualify him.

The State also relies on our holding in New Jersey Highway Authority v. Rue , 41 N.J. Super. 385, 390 (App. Div. 1956), certification denied 22 N.J. 340 (1956), that a dairy farmer from a municipality nearby the dairy farm sought to be condemned was not qualified to testify that in his opinion that farm had a market value of $140,000-$150,000. The Rue case is distinguishable. The purported expert was just another dairy farmer from a neighboring town. He was not an expert ...

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