The opinion of the court was delivered by Grossman, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).
This is an action commenced in the Ocean County District Court by the acting director, New Jersey Division of Taxation, for the collection of statutory penalties. Defendant is a corporation engaged in the business of providing outdoor advertising for customers. Plaintiff contends that defendant erected and maintained a number of outdoor advertising structures in Ocean County without permits, in violation of the provisions of N.J.S.A. 54:40-50 et seq.
The complaint is in eight counts. The first seven counts allege the illegal erection and maintenance of ten outdoor advertising structures over varying periods of time. The eighth count demands reimbursement to plaintiff for the expense of removing four of said structures, together with a penalty in the amount of twice the cost of removal, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:40-57.
After trial the court found plaintiff had proved its causes of action as to all structures, save two, in counts one and four. In addition, the court found the actual charge of $2,000 for removing four structures paid by plaintiff to another outdoor advertising company was totally unreasonable. It concluded that $1,000 would not have been unreasonable
and proceeded to enter judgment on behalf of plaintiff on the eighth count in the sum of $2,030 -- $1,000 plus the statutory penalty and a sales tax of $30.
At the same time, the court sought to assess the penalties in connection with the remaining five counts. N.J.S.A. 54:40-65 provides for penalties of not less than $50 nor more than $200 a day for each violation. Each day of violation is declared to be a separate offense. Considering that the actions of defendant were in flagrant disregard of the statute, the court imposed penalties of $100 per day for each violation. The total for all violations contained in the five counts amounted to $57,200, or 572 days of separate infractions. Together with the judgment for the eighth count, the total came to $59,230.
Defendant objects to the entry of judgment in this amount, contending that the county district court lacks jurisdiction to enter judgment in any amount in excess of $1,000. It cites N.J.S.A. 2 A:6-34, the pertinent portion of which reads as follows:
"(a) Every action of a civil nature at law * * * and every action to recover any penalty imposed or authorized by any law of this State, where the debt, balance, penalty, damage or other matter in dispute does not exceed, exclusive of costs, the sum or value of $1,000.00 * * * shall be cognizable in the county district courts of this State."
Defendant argues that the county district court is a court of limited jurisdiction, the limits of which have been fixed by the Legislature at $1,000 in penalty actions. This is a penalty action; therefore, plaintiff cannot recover more than $1,000 in total penalties. The court does not agree with this argument.
This action was commenced in the county district court by virtue of N.J.S.A. 54:40-67. It provides:
"Penalties set forth in this act shall be sued for by and in the name of the director and shall be recoverable with costs. Every county district court and municipal court shall have jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of ...