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Inganamort v. Borough of Fort Lee

Decided: March 2, 1977.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Hughes, Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford and Schreiber and Judge Conford. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pashman, J.


This case presents a novel issue in this Court: whether a municipal ordinance may be extended by resolution of the community's governing body where this procedure is explicitly called for in the enactment.

The challenges in this case involve Fort Lee ordinances No. 72-1 and No. 74-26. The former was enacted by the

Borough of Fort Lee in 1972 and is entitled "An Ordinance to Regulate, Control and Stabilize Rents and Create a Rent Control Board within the Borough of Fort Lee." Although various other procedural challenges to this ordinance, and to the constitutionality of rent control generally, have been previously decided, the instant litigation presents for the first time the validity of efforts to extend the life of the ordinance by resolution.*fn1 As originally adopted, the ordinance provided that it would be effective for three years. Two weeks after its initial enactment, however, an amendment was passed reducing the term of the ordinance to one year and providing that the governing body of the borough could extend its life on a yearly basis by resolution. The amended provision, section 20, states:

This ordinance is to take effect immediately upon passage and publication as required by law, and shall remain in full force and effect for a period not to exceed one year from said effective date and shall automatically terminate, cease and be of no force and effect unless specifically extended by the Governing Body by Resolution extending said term from year to year. Any such extension action

must be taken by the Governing Body prior to the first anniversary date of this Ordinance and each anniversary date thereafter.

In accordance with the terms of the ordinance, the governing body of the municipality unanimously passed a resolution in January 1973, prior to the expiration date of the ordinance, extending its duration for another year commencing February 2, 1973. The governing body again acted unanimously the following year, passing a second resolution extending the life of the ordinance for an additional year commencing on February 2, 1974.

Plaintiffs in this case are landlords and managing agents of multi-family dwellings in Fort Lee. They argue that an ordinance may not be extended by resolution, whether or not the terms of the ordinance tolerate such a result. Assuming that section 20 is invalid, they argue that the ordinance expired by its terms at the expiration of the original one-year period. And because the amendatory ordinances purported to amend an expired ordinance, see ante at 415 n. 1, they argue that subsequent ordinances had no effect on rent control in the municipality. The defendant borough, on the other hand, asserts that the delegation of authority, allowing the governing board to extend the ordinance by resolution, was not legislative in character, and therefore was valid. Alternatively, it argues that the Court should give effect to the decision of the governing body to extend the ordinance either under a theory of ratification or that the original ordinance be incorporated into amendatory ordinances.

The trial court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, holding that the governing body could not extend the ordinance by a resolution and that as a result the ordinance expired after the original one-year term. Additionally, it found that the amendatory ordinances failed to revive the expired enactment. We granted certification on our own motion while the matter was pending unheard in the Appellate Division. 69 N.J. 399 (1976).

We find that the trial court's decision on the validity of section 20 of Ordinance No. 72-1 was correct, but that the

invalid section may be severed from the remainder of the provision. Consequently, we hold that the ordinance remained in effect until specifically repealed or superseded by another enactment.


We first consider plaintiff's contention that a municipal ordinance may not be ...

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