[166 NJSuper Page 405] This opinion supplements an oral opinion delivered at the conclusion of the hearing of the
above matter. The question preesnted is a perplexing one, of apparent first impression, and does not concern the liability of the parties or the amount of compensation to be paid, if any, but the jurisdiction of the Essex County District Court to hear and determine certain landlord-tenant issues. It is an adjective or procedural problem and not a substantive one, as to which no comment is made or intended.
Plaintiffs, who are tenants of defendants in a residential property in East Orange, Essex County, filed a five-count complaint in the Essex County District Court. The first count alleges an illegal rent increase and consequential acts, entitling plaintiffs to a monetary judgment; the second count alleges uninhabitable conditions and seeks monetary damages and abatement of rent; the third count alleges a violation by way of failure to post the statement required by the Landlord-Tenant Registration Statements Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8-27 to 37, and looks toward the recovery of the penalty provided for therein; the fourth count alleges a violation by way of failure to distribute the statement required by the Truth-In-Renting Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8-43 to 49, and looks toward the recovery of the penalty provided for therein; and the fifth count alleges a different violation by way of failure to post said statement required by the Truth-In-Renting Act, and looks toward the recovery of the penalty provided for therein. Service of process upon defendants was effected by plaintiff's attorney, apparently by mail. Defendants filed a pro se answer in which they admitted or denied the various allegations of the complaint, and denied any liability to plaintiffs.
The matter came on for trial in due course, and immediately, a jurisdictional problem became apparent. Admittedly, defendants own property, part of which is leased to plaintiffs, in East Orange, Essex County, but defendants reside in the Township of East Hanover, situate in Morris County. The fact that East Hanover is a township in the County of Morris is properly noticed, under Evid. R. 9(1), where, without request by a party, judicial notice shall be taken
of such specific acts and propositions of generalized knowledge as are so universally known that they cannot reasonably be the subject of dispute. If defendants are residents of Morris County, and they are, can the Essex County District Court exercise jurisdiction over them?
Under the New Jersey Constitution the Legislature has the authority to establish the jurisdiction of the county district courts, and it has defined the jurisdiction of those courts in N.J.S.A. 2A:6-32 et seq. Knox v. Krause , 152 N.J. Super. 278 (Law Div. 1977). In particular, N.J.S.A. 2A:6-32 speaks of territorial jurisdiction, and limits each county district court to the boundaries of its own county. N.J.S.A. 2A:6-33 carves out an exception, by expansion, where there are multiple defendants, and permits defendants outside of the county to be joined in an action with those inside the county. Recently, the territorial jurisdiction of the county district court was extensively reviewed in Beca Realty v. Eisberg , 125 N.J. Super. 575 (Cty. D. Ct. 1973) where the court concluded that its jurisdiction was limited in fact to its county borders. Essentially, Beca Realty was concerned with long-arm jurisdiction where both defendants resided outside of the State of New Jersey. Shortly thereafter the long-arm holding of Beca Realty was overruled by Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Katzmann , 137 N.J. Super. 106 (App. Div. 1975), where defendant wife sought to third-party her former husband in the State of New York. The case here lies between Beca Realty v. Eisberg , where defendant resided outside of the State of New Jersey, and Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Katzmann , where one defendant resided in a particular county and a third-party defendant resided outside of the State. Neither of the foregoing cases involved a defendant residing in New Jersey but outside of the county of the county district court. As to this situation, the statutes establishing jurisdiction must still control. State v. Osborn , 32 N.J. 117, 122 (1960), says that jurisdiction rests solely upon the court's having been granted power to hear and determine the proceeding by the Constitution or by valid legislation. To the
same effect is Vineland Shopping Center, Inc. v. DeMarco , 65 N.J. Super. 223, 232 (App. Div. 1961).
The fact that defendants filed an answer does not alter the matter or remedy the situation, for if a court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, jurisdiction cannot be conferred by agreement of the parties or by waiver resulting from a party's failure to interpose a timely objection to the assumption of jurisdiction. Lay Faculty Ass'n v. Newark Archdiocese , 122 N.J. Super. 260, 269 (App. Div. 1973). In addition, R. 4:6-7 permits the dismissal of an action whenever it appears that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter, although, under R. 1:13-4, the action may be transferred to the proper court. For other reasons, this matter will not be transferred to the Morris County District Court.
So far, it appears perfectly clear that the Essex County District Court can exercise no jurisdiction over Morris County residents who are not joined as codefendants with an Essex County resident or residents. But, the very statutes, the Registration Statements Act and the Truth-In-Renting Act, which create the ...