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Delaware River Port Authority v. Hughes

Decided: March 7, 1966.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor and Hall. For affirmance -- None.

Per Curiam

[46 NJ Page 452] The five individual plaintiffs are New Jersey members of the Delaware River Port Authority, a bistate agency formed by compact between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 32:3-1 et seq. They were appointed commissioners of the agency on June 4, 1962. The defendant Secretary of State deemed the appointments to be for unexpired terms of office and on that basis certified the terms of all would end on July 1, 1964. Plaintiffs contended the statute contemplates that each appointment shall be for a full term of five years. The trial court agreed with plaintiffs and we certified the ensuing appeal before argument in the Appellate Division.

As to all five offices here involved, there were long periods of holdover by predecessors of the plaintiffs. As to two of those offices, there is the further circumstance that a vacancy occurred within the term of the predecessor of the holdover-appointee and the holdover-appointee was appointed before the expiration of that unfinished term. Neither side, however, argues the result as to those two offices should be affected by that further circumstance. In other words, both sides take absolute positions, conceiving that the impact, if any, of a vacancy within a term and of a holdover must be the same.

The issue is wholly one of statutory construction. The language of the compact with respect to vacancy has changed, while the provision as to holdover has remained constant.

As to vacancy, the compact originally was perfectly clear, providing that (L. 1931, c. 391, Art. II, p. 1223):

"For the State of New Jersey, whenever a vacancy in the office of Commissioner shall occur such vacancy shall be filled for the unexpired term by the Legislature. If the Legislature shall not be in session when the vacancy occurs, such vacancy shall be filled by the Governor and such appointee shall hold office until the Legislature convenes." (Italics added)

In 1948, following the adoption of our Constitution of 1947 which barred legislative election or appointment of any executive, administrative or judicial officer except the State Auditor, Art. IV, § V, para. 5, the compact was amended to place the appointing power in the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. L. 1948, c. 443, p. 1742. The revised language is set forth in N.J.S.A. 32:3-3. As there appears, the draftsman of this 1948 supplement dealt with the problem of "a vacancy occurring in the office of commissioner" but spoke only of ad interim appointment by the Governor alone and said nothing about a regular appointment made with senatorial approval during a vacancy. Plaintiffs of course insist the omission to provide that a regular appointment shall be for the remainder of the term was

intentional and designed to mean that every regular appointment shall be for the full five-year term, while defendants say the omission was inadvertent. Neither side has uncovered legislative history either way.

As to holdover, the compact has always provided as appears in the last paragraph of N.J.S.A. 32:3-3 (with minor changes of expression not here material) that:

"All commissioners shall continue to hold office after the expiration of the terms for which they are appointed or elected until their respective successors are appointed and qualify, but no period during which any commissioner shall hold over shall be deemed to be an extension of his term of office for the purpose of computing the date on which his successor's term expires." (Italics added)

The draftsman obviously was conscious of the question whether there is a "vacancy" during a "holdover," cf. 43 Am. Jur., Public Officers § 164, p. 21, and hence he dealt with that situation. We can find in the roundabout phrasing of the italicized provision only the direct proposition that a holdover shall shorten the term of the successor. Cf. Gillson v. Heffernan, 40 N.J. 367, 375-376 (1963); Monte v. Milat, 17 N.J. Super. 260, 268 (Law Div. 1952). This, of course, comported with the treatment of an appointment where the vacancy occurs within the term, i.e., that the appointment shall be for the balance of the term.

If, as we have said, the italicized portion of the holdover provision meant in 1931 that the period of holdover cut into the ensuing term, surely its meaning could not change simply because the vacancy provision was altered. And if we assumed the Legislature deliberately dropped the vacancy provision of the original compact to the end that a regular appointment during a vacancy within a term shall be for a full term, it would not follow that the italicized holdover provision became so meaningless that its continued presence must be called an oversight. The ...

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