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State v. Celmer

Decided: June 21, 1979.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT, AND OCEAN GROVE CAMP MEETING ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, INTERVENOR-RESPONDENT,
v.
LOUIS J. CELMER, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 157 N.J. Super. 242 (1978).

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

Pashman

At issue in this case is the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 40:97-1 et seq. -- a statutory scheme which grants various municipal powers to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of The United Methodist Church. Specifically, defendant contends that by delegating to the Association the authority to make laws and the power to enforce those laws through the establishment of a municipal court, see N.J.S.A. 40:97-4 to 40:97-8, the Legislature has transcended the bounds of both the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, paragraph 4 of our own State Constitution.

On March 24, 1976 defendant Louis Celmer, Jr. was arrested by officers of the Ocean Grove Police Department and charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)); speeding (N.J.S.A. 39:4-98); and disregard of a traffic signal (N.J.S.A. 39:4-81). Following a trial in the Ocean Grove Municipal Court, defendant was found guilty of each of the three offenses.

Defendant appealed these convictions to the Monmouth County Court, see R. 3:23-1, -2.*fn1 In addition to attacking the sufficiency of the proofs upon which the findings of guilt were based, defendant contended that the statutory scheme permitting the formation of a municipal court in Ocean Grove, see N.J.S.A. 40:97-4, was invalid under the establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment, that the municipal court was therefore an improperly constituted tribunal, and that consequently his convictions must be reversed.

On June 11, 1976, following a trial de novo based upon the record below, see R. 3:23-8(a), the County Court concluded that defendant's guilt as to all three charges had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, it reversed the speeding and disregard of a traffic signal convictions on the ground that these offenses merged into the drunk driving violation. Decision as to the merits of defendant's First Amendment claim was reserved, in order that notice of the constitutional challenge be given to the Attorney General of New Jersey, the Ocean Grove Municipal Court, and the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of the United Methodist Church, see R. 4:28-4. None of the foregoing parties chose to intervene at that time.

The County Court's decision as to defendant's constitutional claim was rendered on July 12, 1976. State v. Celmer, 143 N.J. Super. 371 (Cty. Ct. 1976). It concluded that N.J.S.A. 40:97-1 et seq. did indeed violate the dictates of the First Amendment, and that therefore the Ocean Grove municipal court was without jurisdiction to determine defendant's guilt or innocence of the charged offenses. 143 N.J. Super. at 377. The drunk driving conviction there

imposed was consequently reversed and a judgment of acquittal entered.

On July 26, 1976 the State filed a notice of appeal to the Appellate Division. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association requested and was granted permission to intervene. On March 10, 1978 the Appellate Division reversed the County Court's decision as to the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 40:97-1 et seq. and reinstated the drunk driving conviction. State v. Celmer, 157 N.J. Super. 242 (App. Div. 1978). We granted defendant's petition for certification. 79 N.J. 464 (1979). We now reverse.

I

Resolution of defendant's constitutional challenge must begin with an examination of both the internal workings of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (Association) and the powers granted that Association by the Legislature in N.J.S.A. 40:97-1 et seq. In 1869, a small band of Methodist clergy led by Rev. William B. Osborn established a camp meeting ground upon 260 acres of land which now form the nucleus of Ocean Grove. The site quickly attracted adherents, and within a short period of time the area was transformed from a sparsely settled expanse into a thriving community of fellow worshippers. See Gibbons, History of Ocean Grove, 9-11 (1939).

In 1870 the association which these people had established was incorporated by State charter under the name "The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church" L. 1870, c. 157. That name has since been changed to "The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of The United Methodist Church" L. 1968, c. 231. At present, the lands owned by the corporation form a part of Neptune Township.

At the time it obtained its corporate charter, the Association adopted a set of by-laws to regulate the internal affairs of the organization. These by-laws make clear that the

main purpose underlying the formation of the Association was, and remains today, that of

provid[ing] and maintain[ing] for the members and friends of The United Methodist Church a proper, convenient and desirable permanent camp meeting ground and Christian seaside resort * * *.

[Association By-Laws, ...


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