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Sands Point Harbor Inc. v. Sullivan

Decided: October 10, 1975.

SANDS POINT HARBOR, INC., A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, COMMISSIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Halpern, Crane and Michels. The opinion of the court was delivered by Crane, J.A.D.

Crane

This litigation was commenced in the Law Division of the Superior Court. The complaint alleges that an order of the Department of Environmental Protection of the State of New Jersey, N.J.A.C. 7:7A-11 et seq. , adopted pursuant to the Wetlands Act of 1970, N.J.S.A. 13:9A-1 et seq. , and the Wetlands Act itself, violate the Constitutions of the State of New Jersey and of the United States. The trial judge transferred the first four counts of the complaint which attacked the administrative order to the Appellate Division pursuant to R. 1:13-4. The remainder of the counts of plaintiff's complaint were disposed of by the entry of summary judgment in favor of defendants.

The order of which plaintiff complains designated approximately 140 acres of plaintiff's property as coastal wetlands pursuant to the authority granted by N.J.S.A. 13:9A-2 and 3. The consequence of the entry of such an order is to prohibit any "regulated activity" such as draining, dredging, excavating or the erection of structures without a permit. N.J.S.A. 13:9A-4.

Plaintiff, a developer of residential real property, contends that the Wetlands Act and the the administrative order deprive it of the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States

Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution of 1947, Art. I, par. 1. Plaintiff also contends that the act, in its application to plaintiff's lands, constitutes a taking without just compensation in violation of Art. I, par. 20 of the New Jersey Constitution of 1947. Plaintiff urges that the matter is presently ripe for determination without the necessity of any administrative proceeding.

We have carefully considered each of the arguments advanced by plaintiff and find them to be without merit.

Regulation of the use of marshes and wetlands having environmental and ecological importance to the continued existence of species of wildlife and to mankind is a valid exercise of governmental power. Just v. Marinette Cty. , 56 Wis. 2d 7, 201 N.W. 2d 761 (Sup. Ct. 1972); Commissioner of Natural Resources v. S. Volpe & Co. , 349 Mass. 104, 206 N.E. 2d 666 (Sup. Jud. Ct. 1965); Potomac Sand & Gravel Co. v. Governor of Maryland , 266 Md. 358, 293 A.2d 241 (Ct. App. 1972), cert. den. 409 U.S. 1040, 93 S. Ct. 525, 34 L. Ed. 2d 490 (1972); Sibson v. State , 336 A.2d 239 (N.H. Sup. Ct. 1975). See also opinion of Hall, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part, N.J. Sports & Exposition Auth. v. McCrane , 61 N.J. 1, 62 (1972).

The equal protection argument is addressed to the geographical scope of the coastal wetlands defined in N.J.S.A. 13:9A-2:

There is specifically excluded therefrom "any land or real property subject to the jurisdiction of the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission pursuant to the provisions

of P.L. 1968, chapter 404, sections 1 through 84. (C. 13:17-1 through C. 13:17-86)." Id.

Classification in legislation is not constitutionally prohibited. The Legislature is granted a wide range of discretion to treat the subject matter of legislation differently so long as the classification is reasonable and is related to the basic object of the legislation. Wilson v. Long Branch , 27 N.J. 360, 377 (1958), cert. den. 358 U.S. 873, 79 S. Ct. 113, 3 L. Ed. 2d 104 (1958). Testimony before the trial court indicated that the coastal wetlands north of Raritan Bay are characterized by heavy industrial, commercial and residential development. Very sparse wetland areas remain because of intense development. The only large contiguous area of tidal wetlands north of Raritan Bay is in the area under the jurisdiction of the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission, which is given power to regulate activities in that area under the provisions of N.J.S.A. 13:17-5 et seq. The coastal areas south of Raritan Bay are characterized by residential, recreational and light ...


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