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Holy Name Hospital v. Montroy

Decided: March 23, 1977.

HOLY NAME HOSPITAL, A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY L. MONTROY, BUILDING INSPECTOR OF THE TOWNSHIP OF TEANECK AND THE TOWNSHIP COUNCIL OF THE TOWNSHIP OF TEANECK, DEFENDANTS



Smith, J.c.c., Temporarily Assigned.

Smith

This suit was instituted by Holy Name Hospital pursuant to the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:16-50 et seq. , in response to a complaint filed against it by the Teaneck Building Inspector. Prosecution in the municipal court has been stayed pending the outcome of this litigation. The specific regulation involved is a section of the Teaneck Code which limits permissible residential use in a one family zone to:

(a) Dwelling occupied by one family or no more than three persons not related by blood, marriage or adoption, occupying the dwelling as a single, non-profit housekeeping unit; provided however, that if any of the occupants be the owner of the premises, the number of related or unrelated persons that may reside therein shall be limited only by other chapters of the Township Code. As used herein, the term "owner" shall be limited to a natural person who, alone or jointly or severally with other natural persons, has legal and beneficial title to the premises. [ Township of Teaneck New Jersey Mun. Code , Art. V, par. 1; emphasis supplied]

According to the stipulated facts, Holy Name Hospital is the owner of three separate houses, each in close proximity to the other. Only nuns who work in various capacities at the hospital or teach in nearby institutions and parochial schools are permitted to live in these houses. Maintenance and upkeep expenses are paid to the hospital by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Peace. There is no evidence of any annoying or disruptive behavior. On May 17, 1976, the date of the complaint, there were four occupants of 737 Grange Road, four residents of 717 Norma Court and seven inhabitants of 655 Mildred Street. The violation occurs exclusively by virtue of the fact that more than three unrelated nuns happen to be living together under the same roof.

Thus the narrow issue to be decided is whether a municipality may use its zoning power to restrict residential occupancy solely on the basis of relationship by blood, marriage or adoption.

When initially faced with this problem, New Jersey trial courts, like authorities in other states, were divided in their opinions.*fn1 But once the appellate level was reached, this type of regulation was invalidated on the basis that it unreasonably restricted delineation of permissible occupants.

Kirsch Holding Co. v. Manasquan , 59 N.J. 241 (1971); Gabe Collins Realty, Inc. v. Margate City , 112 N.J. Super. 341 (App. Div. 1970). Both cases dealt with attempts by seashore resort communities to preserve quiet seclusion in the face of massive group rentals. They chose to combat the problem by promulgation of zoning ordinances. In deciding Kirsch our Supreme Court questioned whether the enabling Zoning Act delegated to municipalities the authority to exclude classes of occupants. Rather than decide this issue, it chose to follow Gabe Collins and based its conclusion on the unreasonableness of such provisions. The limitation of the number of permissible occupants based upon relationship by blood or marriage precluded so many harmless dwelling uses that it was deemed to be sweepingly excessive and, therefore, legally unreasonable. Like all police power legislation, zoning ordinances must

Court ruling was subsequently overturned by the United States Supreme Court in Belle Terre Village v. Boraas , 416 U.S. 1, 94 S. Ct. 1536, 39 L. Ed. 2d 797 (1974).*fn2 Belle Terre is a tiny village of about 220 homes on Long Island's north shore where land use is restricted exclusively to one-family

dwellings. The rental of homes to groups of nearby university students inspired enactment of an ordinance which prohibits occupancy by more than two unrelated persons.*fn3 Mr. Justice Douglas, speaking for the majority, recognized that

But Belle Terre's bottom-line holding reads only that occupancy restrictions based upon biological family ties do not violate federal First Amendment rights. Where such ordinances are valid under state law, they will not be disturbed by the federal courts. It is now abundantly clear that the New Jersey guarantees of due process and equal protection may be more demanding and are to be more broadly construed than those of the Federal Constitution. Southern Burlington Cty. N.A.A.C.P. v. Mount Laurel Tp. , 67 N.J. ...


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