By Orders dated December 14, 1971 and January 24, February 17 and April 10, 1972 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court transferred a total of 600 cases pending on the combined civil calendars of the Superior and County Courts in Hudson County to Bergen County for trial. At the time there was no statutory provision relating to the transfer of cases from one county to another, nor for payment in connection with the disposition thereof.
By chapter 271 of the Laws of 1973, N.J.S.A. 2A:11-5.1 and 5.2 was enacted to "take effect immediately and shall apply to cases transferred on or after [July 1, 1972]." This statute authorizes such transfers by order of the Chief Justice and provides for payment to the county of transfer (transferee county) by the county from which the cases have been transferred (transferor county).
On August 19, 1975 Bergen County forwarded a voucher in the amount of $62,000 to Hudson County, seeking payment for the disposition of 616 transferred cases. This sum represents one-half of the claim for reimbursement as certified to the Administrative Director of the Courts by the Assignment Judge of Bergen County. The State has paid the other one-half. (N.J.S.A. 2A:11-5.2 was amended by the Laws of 1975, c. 321, § 1, effective February 20, 1976, to provide for payment by the transferor county of the entire amount.)
By letter dated October 29, 1975 Hudson County Counsel pointed out that N.J.S.A. 2A:11-5.1 applied only to cases transferred on or after July 1, 1972. Since the 616 cases had been transferred between December 20, 1971 and April 10, 1972 they were not covered by this statute. Thus, Hudson refused to pay the voucher from Bergen.
The matter was in this posture when, on March 29, 1977 by chapter 48 of the Laws of 1977, N.J.S.A. 2A:11-5.1 was
amended to provide that the statute apply to cases transferred on or after December 1, 1971. The statement accompanying this bill reads as follows:
Excessive court case loads in the counties of Hudson and Union in the latter part of 1971 and early 1972 necessitated not only the assignment of additional judges but also the attainment of additional courtroom facilities and personnel. To accomplish this end, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of portions of the case loads to adjoining or nearby counties. It was recognized in making these transfers that a financial burden was being placed upon the transferee counties for which they should be reimbursed. Accordingly legislation was proposed providing for such reimbursement for all cases transferred on or after January 1, 1972. In November, 1972, Senate Bill No. 1127 and Assembly Bill No. 1457 were introduced to accomplish this purpose. In transcribing the copy for Senate Bill No. 1127, the date of January 1, 1972 was inadvertently changed to July 1, 1972. This error did not occur in transcribing the copy for Assembly Bill No. 1457. Senate Bill No. 1127 was enacted into law (P.L. 1973, c. 271; C. 2A:11-5.1 and C. 2A:11-5.2) before the error was discovered.
It is the purpose of this bill not only to correct that error and to authorize and to provide for the reimbursement of the counties properly entitled thereto, but also to remove any doubt that the first Order of Transfer which was made as of December 14, 1971, is also included within the provisions of this bill.
Plaintiffs seek a declaration that N.J.S.A. 2A:11-5.1 and 5.2, as amended, "violates the legislative and constitutional scheme for paying court costs." Defendant O'Connor, as Director of the Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Bergen, seeks judgment directing Hudson County to remit to Bergen County the $62,000, together with interest.
Initially this court observed a potential conflict in hearing this matter. At the time of the transfers in question I sat as a judge of the Bergen County Court and in fact heard some of the transferred cases. Presently I am a resident and taxpayer of Bergen County, as well as the assignment judge of Hudson County. However, all parties have waived any objection and the court feels no conflict.
Plaintiffs maintain that N.J.S.A. 2A:11-5.1 and 5.2, as amended, is unconstitutional as special legislation which failed to comply with the constitutional procedure for enactment. It is not clear whether they concede the original enactment to be general rather than special legislation. The argument made, however, would appear to have equal application to the original enactment, as well as to the amendment in 1977.
N.J. Const. (1947), Art. IV, § VII, par. 7, provides:
No general law shall embrace any provision of a private, special or local character.
Art. IV, § VII, par 8, provides in pertinent part that
No private, special or local law shall be passed unless public notice of the intention to apply therefor, and of the general object thereof, shall have been previously given.
Art. IV, § VII, par. 9, sets forth a series of subjects upon which the Legislature shall not pass any private, special or local laws. Art. IV, § VII, par. 10, provides for petition by counties or municipalities to enact special laws regulating internal affairs.
The principles applicable to the determination of whether a law is general or special, within the meaning of the above constitutional provisions, are well established. Where the constitutionality of a statute is challenged as being a special law there is a strong presumption that the statute is constitutional. It will not be declared void unless its repugnancy to the Constitution is clear beyond a reasonable doubt. In determining whether a law is general or special it is what is excluded that is the determining factor, and not what is included. If no one is excluded who should be encompassed, the law is general. The law must affect all of a group, who, ...