On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 160 N.J. Super. 105 (1978).
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Clifford and Schreiber. For reversal -- Justices Pashman and Handler. The opinion of the court was delivered by Mountain, J. Pashman, J., dissenting. Justice Handler joins in this opinion.
The City of Newark brought suit against the County of Essex, seeking reimbursement for overtime payroll expenses for police and firemen incurred by Newark during riots which took place between September 1 and 14, 1974. The trial court found in favor of the plaintiff and entered judgment in the amount of $425,511.67. 144 N.J. Super. 566 (Cty. Ct. 1976). On appeal the Appellate Division reversed, holding that plaintiff had failed to establish a cause of action. 160 N.J. Super. 105 (App. Div. 1978). We granted certification. 78 N.J. 333 (1978).
The resolution of this issue requires a careful analysis and interpretation of the Mobs and Riots Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:48-1 to 48-7.
The fundamental purpose of this statute is to provide reimbursement from public funds for property damage suffered by individual property owners due to riots. The first section of the enactment, N.J.S.A. 2A:48-1, places the obligation for such reimbursement upon the municipality where the riot occurs, provided "it has a paid police force." Otherwise the obligation is that of the county in which the disturbance takes place.
Perhaps because of the potentially heavy exposure, the statute imposes a series of protective conditions which must
be met before a claimant becomes entitled to payment for damage he has suffered.
In the first place, recovery is limited to $10,000 for the "aggregate of damage . . . at each separate location." N.J.S.A. 2A:48-1. Furthermore, to the extent that a property owner has insurance protection he may not recover, at least to the extent he is reimbursed by his insurer. Id.; Green v. City of Newark, 61 N.J. 460 (1972). Nor may an insurer exercise any right of subrogation. N.J.S.A. 2A:48-1.
Secondly, the statute of limitations is very short. An action must be brought on a claim "within 3 months after the loss of or injury to the property." N.J.S.A. 2A:48-2.
Thus the claimant must affirmatively establish not only that no negligence on his part contributed to the damage, but also that he exerted himself in every reasonable way to avert the destruction or injury.
Finally, the claimant must give timely notice to a designated public official of the threat to his property. The pertinent portion of the enactment reads,
Nor shall a recovery be had unless the claimant . . . . shall have, immediately after being apprized of a threat or attempt to destroy or injure his property by a mob or riot, notified the mayor or chief executive officer or chief of police of the municipality or the sheriff of the county, as the case may be, of the facts brought to his knowledge. [ N.J.S.A. 2A:48-3]
Several things are clear. The Legislature intended, at least to a limited extent, to reimburse property owners for
damage or injury to property caused by mob violence or riots. Relief was to be made available from public funds. If the disturbance were to occur in a municipality with a paid police force, then that municipality would be required to bear the expense. Absent a paid police force, the obligation was to be that of the county. Finally, as is set forth above, only those claimants who met and fulfilled the conditions we have enumerated could recover.
It is with this legislative scheme before us, that we consider the particular statutory provision upon which Newark relies in its action ...