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Township of Scotch Plains v. Town of Westfield

Decided: April 7, 1964.

TOWNSHIP OF SCOTCH PLAINS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; PRESTON L. TALLEY, II AND HELEN K. TALLEY, HIS WIFE; HENRY A. MILNE AND IDA D. MILNE, HIS WIFE; EVERETT O. SIEGELE AND JESSIE S. SIEGELE, HIS WIFE; SARAH P. MCINTOSH AND JOSEPH C. MCINTOSH, HER HUSBAND; FREDERICK NEUMAN AND ROSLYN NEUMAN, HIS WIFE; RUSSELL N. CLARK AND MARGARET S. CLARK, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOWN OF WESTFIELD, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT. THOMAS H. STOUDT AND KATHRYN H. STOUDT, HIS WIFE; RUDOLF BARUCH AND KATHERINE M. BARUCH, HIS WIFE; ELLIOT A. HALLER; STANLEY E. LUBECK, SR. AND MARILYN E. LUBECK, HIS WIFE; HAYWARD BEATTY; HAROLD J. SHAHNAZARIAN AND GLADYS SHAHNAZARIAN, HIS WIFE; JOHN DETORRE AND DOROTHY W. DETORRE, HIS WIFE; EMIL BAER AND BETTY BAER, HIS WIFE; JOSEPH F. NELSON AND MARTHA NELSON, HIS WIFE; LYNN F. WRIGHT AND DOROTHY WRIGHT, HIS WIFE; NORMAN W. HOUSTON AND BETTY S. HOUSTON, HIS WIFE; ROBERT C. MILL AND CLAUDIA MILL, HIS WIFE; AND GEORGE VILLA AND EILENE VILLA, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS, V. TOWN OF WESTFIELD IN THE COUNTY OF UNION, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT



Feller, J.s.c.

Feller

These are consolidated actions in lieu of prerogative writs brought by the Township of Scotch Plains, residents of that township and various residents of the Town of Westfield, against the Town of Westfield. In this action plaintiffs demand judgment setting aside an ordinance enacted by the defendant and permanently enjoining it from taking any action pursuant to the ordinance. The ordinance in question is entitled:

"An Ordinance Providing for the Construction of a Municipal Garage, accessory improvements and appurtenances, the appropriation of the monies necessary therefor, and the issuance of bond anticipation notes for the financing of said work."

It provides that a new municipal garage, accessory improvements and appurtenances be constructed on a portion of the premises known as Lot 1, Block 785, in the Town of Westfield. These premises are part of that area of Westfield known as Tamaques Reservation, a municipal park area, and are presently zoned for the highest one-family residential use -- Zone "A."

The interest of the Township of Scotch Plains and of the residents of that township in the case arises from the fact that the site upon which the proposed municipal garage is to be located adjoins property within Scotch Plains. The latter property is also zoned residential by the Scotch Plains zoning ordinance.

The need for a new town garage is undisputed by the parties. The property upon which the former garage was located had been sold to Hahne & Co. in 1961 for use as a department store building site. The town has been without a municipal garage ever since and has been using temporary facilities in its stead. Shortly after the sale to Hahne & Co. the planning board conducted studies of various sites for the new garage. For various reasons which will be mentioned later, several locations within the town were rejected and finally the site in

dispute was chosen. Plaintiffs then brought this suit challenging the actions of the Town of Westfield. They contend that the action of the town is illegal for various reasons which may be summarized as follows:

(1) The proposed site is not within the Town of Westfield;

(2) The proposed use would violate Westfield's own zoning ordinance;

(3) If the property is within Westfield and if the proposed use is allowed by Westfield's zoning ordinance, plaintiffs are denied the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I of the New Jersey Constitution;

(4) The proposed use would constitute a nuisance;

(5) The proposed use would violate a previous stipulation between Scotch Plains and Westfield;

(6) The proposed use would constitute an arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable act.

I.

The property upon which the town garage is to be constructed is part of Lot 1, Block 785, as laid out and delineated on the tax map of the Town of Westfield. This same property was a part of the Township of Fanwood (now Scotch Plains) prior to 1915. At that time, in response to a resolution of the governing body of Westfield, the Legislature enacted legislation annexing this land to Westfield. The act of annexation is chapter 270 of the Laws of 1915. It is the contention of plaintiffs that this legislation was defective, and that Lot 1, Block 785, never became a part of Westfield, and presumably they contend that it still remains a part of what is now Scotch Plains. Seemingly, this is the first time this legislation has been attacked in a period of some 48 years. The exact basis of their contention that L. 1915, c. 270, is defective is that the beginning point of the annexation, as described in the act, is "Rahway road." Since it is apparent that there is no such street in the vicinity, plaintiffs contend that the annexation is inaccurately described and uncertain, thereby rendering it defective. Plaintiffs further argue that the act of annexation should be complete and exact on its face, and that extrinsic evidence should not be used to determine the land annexed.

The parties have evidently felt that N.J.S.A. 40:43-67 et seq. is not applicable here. The above statute provides that in case of disputed municipal boundaries the matter may be referred to a commission by the court. The court agrees that this statute is inapplicable in the instant suit since we are here confronted not so much with a boundary dispute as with the validity of an act of the Legislature. This latter matter is properly a judicial function rather than a quasi-judicial one.

Furthermore, the court agrees with plaintiffs that a certain exactitude in setting up municipal boundaries is required. See Durning v. Board of Elections of Portage County , 174 N.E. 2 d 287 (Ohio Ct. App. 1960). However, it remains to be seen just what degree of certainty suffices. Before this is done it might be helpful to inquire into plaintiffs' status to raise this point. Various courts have "nonsuited" parties raising similar points, on the ground of laches, State ex rel. Landis v. Town of Boca Raton , 129 Fla. 673, 177 So. 293 (Sup. Ct. 1937), or estoppel, State ex rel. Landis v. City of Coral Gables , 120 Fla. 492, 163 So. 308, 101 A.L.R. 578 (Sup. Ct. 1935). In addition, it is generally held that an annexation proceeding is not subject to collateral attack unless the proceedings were absolutely void. Town of Coushatta v. Valley Electric Member Corp. , 139 So. 2 d 822 (La. Ct. App. 1961); Village of Lynbrook v. Cadoo , 252 N.Y. 308, 169 N.E. 394 (Ct. App. 1929), reargument denied 252 N.Y. 617, 170 N.E. 165 (Ct. App. 1930). The above bars to bringing suit seem to be more readily applied when a considerable period of time has elapsed after the boundaries have been set. McQuillin, Municipal Corporations (3 d ed.), sec. 7.41, p. 375. However, rather than applying any of the above, it would seem that as the question has already been presented to the court and argued by the parties, the most reasonable disposition will be to base the decision on the annexation act itself, since it is evident there is no merit to the claim that it is defective.

As was said previously, municipal boundaries should be described with such certainty as to render it possible to determine the precise area intended to be included within the municipal bounds. But the law does allow ambiguities in the description of municipal boundaries, for we know that such descriptions are not to be construed with the same strictness as those outlining the boundaries in grants or contracts. Ross v. Mayor and Council of Borough of Edgewater , 115 N.J.L. 477 (Sup. Ct. 1935); McQuillin, Municipal Corporations (3 d ed.), sec. 7.05, pp. 261-262.

It is also stated in McQuillin, sec. 7.05, at p. 262:

"In ascertaining the municipal boundaries, due weight should be given to the contemporaneous interpretation of the courts and other lawful authorities and by the population at large. Maps published by authority of law may be referred to as evidence."

This court takes this to indicate that evidence extrinsic to the act of annexation itself may be examined, if necessary, to determine the exact boundaries. Moreover, the statute annexing part of Fanwood to Westfield must be read with a view to determining the legislative intent, if possible, and not with a view to rendering it null and void if minor inaccuracies are found. 82 C.J.S. Statutes , ยง 342, p. 685; McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, sec. 7.05, p. 262. A sensible rather than a literal reading of legislation is called for, unless the literal wording is so compelling as to evince a clear legislative design. Schierstead v. City of Brigantine , 29 N.J. 220 (1959).

This court is convinced, after having studied all the evidence, that the road referred to in L. 1915, c. 270, is the road presently known as Lamberts Mill Road. The various exhibits have shown that this road has been known in the past as "Radley Road," "Raritan Road," "Raritan Road or Lamberts Mill Road," and "Rahway Road." The basis for the use of "Rahway road" in L. 1915, c. 270, is quite apparent. Pursuant to a resolution of the governing body of Westfield instructing the town attorney and town surveyor to draft a bill

for submission to the Legislature providing for the annexation of a certain tract then lying within the Township of Fanwood, a map was prepared outlining the tract to be annexed. This map was prepared in January 1915, before L. 1915, c. 270, was passed. On it the then present boundary line, now known as Lamberts Mill Road, is noted as being "Rahway Rd." in quotation marks, just as appears in the statute. In addition, the courses and distances shown on the map are exactly those included in the statute (except the directions of the courses are reversed). The similarities between the map and the statute lead to the conclusion that the figures used in the 1915 act were derived from the map or an accompanying draft of the proposed legislation.

The question thus arises as to whether the use by the Legislature of the term "Rahway road," when the road is presently known as Lamberts Mill Road, makes the annexation defective. The court holds that it does not. This holding is based upon alternative premises: (1) if the road was officially known as Rahway Road in 1915 when the property was annexed, the Legislature was perfectly correct in referring to it as "Rahway road" in the act, and the mere change of name from then to now has no effect upon its validity; (2) if the road was officially known as Lamberts Mill Road in 1915 and popularly known as "Rahway road," then the use of the popular terminology does not affect the validity of the act since the intent of the Legislature may still be determined.

The strongest proof that the terminology used accurately set out the boundary of Westfield is the fact that the boundary as established has stood without question for a period of 48 years, and has been acquiesced in by all parties to this suit for that period of time. See McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, sec. 7.09, p. 274. Since the annexation act sufficiently describes the property annexed, it is the opinion of this court that L. 1915, c. 270, is not ...


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