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Bergen County Sewer Authority v. Borough of Bergenfield

Decided: May 17, 1976.

BERGEN COUNTY SEWER AUTHORITY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOROUGH OF BERGENFIELD, ET AL. DEFENDANTS



Trautwein, A.j.s.c.

Trautwein

This proceeding is the final phase of a long and oftentimes bitterly contested controversy between the Bergen County Sewer Authority (Authority) and its constituent municipal corporations. The court has before it today eight separate applications for the allowance of counsel fees brought on behalf of individual attorneys and on behalf of various municipalities. The underlying rationale for these applications is that the various applicants contributed to bringing 2 1/2 years of litigation to a favorable settlement for all parties. In order to intelligently decide the issues presented by these applications reference must be made to prior litigation between many of the parties and to the main case which has generated the instant applications.

The genesis of the instant action may be traced to the case of Ceva v. River Vale Tp. , 119 N.J. Super. 593 (App. Div. 1972), aff'd 62 N.J. 245 (1973). Ceva was an action by four taxpayers of the Township of River Vale which challenged the legality of cost-of-construction and service-to-the-municipality base charge imposed by the Bergen

County Sewer Authority upon municipalities entering and participating in the sewerage system. The Appellate Division held -- and was affirmed by the Supreme Court -- that the only kind of general charge for service to a municipality by the Authority expressly provided by statute is calculated on the basis of "rate times flow", i.e. , the gross gallonage of sewerage placed into the system by the municipality multiplied by a uniform system-wide rate per gallonage unit (generally per million gallons). 119 N.J. Super. at 599.

Athough sharply opposed and still debated today, the per curiam decision of the Supreme Court, decided on February 7, 1973, required the Authority to abandon its attempt to impose the base charge upon the so-called Northern Valley towns (River Vale, Norwood, Northvale, Haworth, Harrington Park, Demarest and Closter). This decision precipitated the present action. The instant suit was instituted by the Authority against the various municipalities constituting membership in the Authority. The complaint sought a declaratory judgment (1) approving the Authority's 1973 rate schedule, (2) determining the liability, if any, of the Authority to certain of its members for payments of now-illegal base charges made in prior years, and (3) reformation of a service agreement between the Authority and several member municipalities known as the Northern Valley agreement.

After the action was commenced numerous defendant-municipalities filed answers, cross-claims, counterclaims and separate defenses. The case mushroomed into what appeared to be an unmanageable and ultra-complex piece of litigation. In response to the approaching chaos, this court conducted a special pretrial conference on January 29, 1974. At the conference the court personally observed over 40 attorneys attempting to sort out the issues in the case and attempting to present arguments on behalf of their clients. The court felt that it was unprofessional, inappropriate and uneconomical to conduct this case in such a circus-like atmosphere. [142 NJSuper Page 444] Therefore, the court ordered that the number of briefs and attorneys be limited to five. This number was logically sound because it contemplated that a single attorney would represent the Authority, the Northern Valley towns, the Southern towns, the Pascack Valley towns, and the Miscellaneous towns. The constituency of these various classes is the following:

NORTHERN VALLEY PASCACK VALLEY SOUTHERN MISCELLANEOUS

Closter Hillsdale Bergenfield Teaneck

Norwood Montvale Bogota Westwood

Demarest Park Ridge Carlstadt Cresskill

River Vale Washington Township Cliffside Park

Haworth Woodcliff Lake Cresskill

Harrington Park River Vale Demarest

Northvale Dumont

East Rutherford

Englewood

Englewood Cliffs

Fairview

Fort Lee

Hackensack

Hasbrouck Heights

Leonia

Little Ferry

Maywood

Moonachie

New Milford

Oradell

Palisades Park

Paramus

Ridgefield

Ridgefield Park

River Edge

Rochelle Park

South Hackensack

Teaneck

Tenafly

Teterbo ...


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