Carton, Crahay and Handler.
The narrow question posed on this appeal is whether the Newark Housing Authority is a "public entity" within the meaning of the New Jersey Tort Claims act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-3.
Plaintiff is a tenant in an apartment leased from defendant Authority. He brought this action against the Authority to recover damages for personal injuries sustained when he fell in the leased premises. The trial judge dismissed the action on the ground that the Tort Claims Act barred suits against the Authority for claims entailing a nonpermanent injury and medical expenses of less than $1,000.
The main ground urged by plaintiff for reversal is that the act was never intended to apply to actions for personal injuries between tenants and landlords. The difficulty with this argument is that it appears to run counter to the clear and specific language of the act and its general purpose.
The law was long established that the State and its agencies were not subject to suit without the consent of the State having been first obtained. Fitzgerald v. Palmer , 47 N.J. 106 (1966). The doctrine of sovereign immunity was abrogated in Willis v. Dept. of Cons. & Ec. Dev. , 55 N.J. 534 (1970), where the court held that the State could, in a proper case, be held liable in tort. However, the court recognized that there were practical reasons for not applying
the decision retroactively and postponed its effective date to permit the Legislature to adopt appropriate legislation.
Thereafter the legislative will was expressed by the enactment of N.J.S.A. 52:4A-1, which provided, with certain exceptions not pertinent here, that
The validity of this statute as originally enacted was upheld in P.T. & L. Const. Co. v. Comm'r, Dept. of Transp. , 57 N.J. 439 (1971). During the moratorium period provided by N.J.S.A. 52:4A-1 comprehensive legislation dealing with the entire problem of the liability of public entities and public employees was prepared and enacted into law as the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq. It seems clear from the language of that act that the Legislature intended to deal with the whole area of sovereign immunity in this one statute.
The legislative declaration proclaimed, among other things:
The legislation also contained the following directive:
Except as otherwise provided by this act, a public entity is not liable for an injury, whether such injury arises out of an act or omission of the public entity or a public ...