This is a motion by defendant City of Plainfield in the consolidated cases to declare unconstitutional certain laws known as the riot statutes, for the reason that they violate the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. These statutes are N.J.S.A. 2A:48-1 to 7, inclusive. Thus, the question here is the constitutional sufficiency of these statutes.
N.J.S.A. 2A:48-1 provides as follows:
When, by reason of a mob or riot, any property, real or personal, is destroyed or injured, the municipality if it has a paid police force, in which the mob congregates or riot occurs, or, if not in such a municipality, the county in which such property is or was situate, shall be liable to the person whose property was so destroyed or injured for the damages sustained thereby, recoverable in an action by or in behalf of such person.
This provision imposes strict liability on the part of a municipality for property damage caused by a riot if the municipality has a paid police force.
At common law a municipality was not liable for damages resulting from mob violence or riots. However, the Legislature has the power to impose liability for riot damage
upon municipalities, and such legislation has been held to be valid and constitutional. See Darlington v. Mayor, etc., of New York , 31 N.Y. 164 (Ct. App. 1865); City of Chicago v. Sturges , 222 U.S. 313, 32 S. Ct. 92, 56 L. Ed. 215 (1915); Clark Thread Co. v. Freeholders of Hudson County , 54 N.J.L. 265 (Sup. Ct. 1892). In A & B Auto Stores of Jones Street, Inc. v. Newark , 103 N.J. Super. 559 (Law Div. 1968), the court said:
The statute in question created a new cause of action imposing strict liability upon a municipality for property damage caused by riots. Such a cause of action required legislative pronouncement because it eliminated in the field of municipal riot damage liability in the negligence concept and the defense of governmental immunity. It represented a declaration of policy by the Legislature in this limited area in order to make the entire community responsible for the damage to innocent property owners resulting from a breakdown in law enforcement. [at 569]
Under the riot statute, however, the city in effect is a wrongdoer. The Legislature has designated it as such for failure to enforce the laws and control its inhabitants. Even though its wrongdoing is passive and the damage is directly caused by an active wrongdoer, nevertheless its liability is founded upon a legislative declaration motivated by the municipality's failure to protect property in its confines [at 571]
The legislative policy in enacting these statutes has been clearly set out in the above opinion.
As was stated by Judge Larner in A & B Auto Stores , at 579, the statutory liability of municipalities for riot damage had its genesis in England in 1285 when the Statutes of Winchester provided a remedy to the victim against one or more inhabitants of the "hundred," a division of a county in early England, for damage caused by robbery. Statute of Winchester , 13 Edw. I, Stat. 2, c. 2 (1285), reenacted by 28 Edw. ...