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Boyd v. Marini

Decided: January 29, 1975.


Matthews, Fritz and Botter. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fritz, J.A.D.


[132 NJSuper Page 326] The only issues involved in this appeal by the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles (Director) in a "hit and run" case and a subsequent application for payment

from the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund (Fund), are (a) whether the amendment to N.J.S.A. 39:6-84, raising the limit of one person payment to $15,000 from the previous $10,000 limit (L. 1972, c. 198, § 5 at 761) applies to all judgments entered after the amendment, irrespective of the fact that the accident producing the judgment -- in this case October 23, 1971 -- may have occurred prior to the amendment date, and (b) whether prejudgment interest should attach pursuant to R. 4:42-11(b) (and see R. 4:58). The judge below answered these inquiries in the affirmative.

Subsequent legislative consideration of the problem satisfies us, as will appear, that without the benefit of that legislative action the judge below erred in regard to the first issue. We agree with his determination of the latter issue.

The problem with respect to whether the 1972 amendment was to be applied to accidents occurring prior to its effective date in cases where a judgment was entered subsequent to that date arose from the failure of the Legislature to specify a "cut-off date" in that legislation as it had in prior enactments (L. 1952, c. 174, § 18 at 585; L. 1958, c. 99, § 9 at 563). The question became one of whether the omission was inadvertent or whether it was intentionally designed in order to provide for retroactive benefits. This question could be answered only by an ascertainment of legislative intent. Rothman v. Rothman, 65 N.J. 219 (1974). The history of the enactment offered little light on the path in this quest except for the difference from prior enactments. This difference served more to confuse than enlighten, since either of the two contradictory interpretations might easily be inferred.

Then, as a direct result of the judgment in this suit the Legislature told us precisely what it did mean and explained to us precisely what its intent was. We take judicial notice (Evid. R. 9) of the fact that, without a single negative vote, both houses passed and sent to the Governor for his signature a bill filling in the gap and, similarly to its predecessors,

setting a "cut-off date." Assembly Bill 81, 196th New Jersey Legislature. The statement appended to the bill recited its motivation by the judgment of "[a] recent court decision interpret[ing] the new limits to apply to accidents occurring before [the effective date of the enactment]."

Now we can with certainty declare what the intent of the Legislature was when it enacted L. 1972, c. 198, § 5. We need not guess; they have told us.

We see no reason why this subsequent legislative advice should not be acceptable as a convincing extrinsic aid to an interpretation of the earlier law. It is difficult to conceive a source to which more thoughtful consideration should be given than the collective (and undissenting) author of the legislation speaking to the precise problem. As is pointed out in 2A Sutherland on Statutory Construction (4 ed.) § 49.01, 228:

The extrinsic aids of statutory construction include information about circumstances existing and events occurring at or after the time when a statute goes into effect. Use of legislative intent as the governing criterion for interpretation has a tendency, in general, to focus attention on circumstances and events of the time when a bill was enacted. But circumstances and situations developing after the enactment of a statute may be of great or even conclusive significance in determining what meaning was conveyed. * * * [Footnote omitted]

The same text specifically reports that "where * * * a doubtful meaning of a former statute [is] rendered certain by subsequent legislation a number of courts have held that such * * * subsequent legislation is strong evidence of what the legislature intended by the first statute." Id., § 49.11, at 265.

We do not hold that such an extrinsic aid is controlling. The circumstances of a given case may impose the serious consideration of other extrinsic aids, or indeed commend the rejection of consideration of the subsequent legislation. ...

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