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International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. Gillen

Decided: June 9, 1980.

INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS, LOCAL NO. 1470, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT AND CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN P. GILLEN, SHERIFF OF HUDSON COUNTY AND WESTERN ELECTRIC COMPANY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS AND CROSS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from Superior Court, Chancery Division, Hudson County, whose published opinion appears at 168 N.J. Super. 143 (1979).

Lora, Antell and Pressler. The opinion of the court was delivered by Antell, J.A.D.

Antell

Plaintiff sued to compel the Sheriff of Hudson County to lift his levy of execution on monies owing to plaintiff. The writ of execution had been issued upon a money judgment entered in a previous action against plaintiff which was settled after the levy, and the sheriff refused to lift his levy until he was paid the commission he contends is due for serving the writ. Plaintiff responded that the sheriff is entitled to a commission only in connection with execution sales of property, and not for levying upon cash. The background facts are related in the formal written opinion of the Chancery Division judge published at 168 N.J. Super. 143 (1979) holding that the sheriff was entitled to a commission.

The right of a sheriff to compensation for his services is derived from statute and must be strictly construed. 70 Am.Jur. 2d, Sheriffs, Police and Constables , § 36; see Martin G. Imbach, Inc. v. Deegan , 208 Md. 115, 117 A.2d 864, 868 (Ct.App.1955); Personeni v. Aquino , 6 N.Y. 2d 35, 187 N.Y.S. 2d 764, 159 N.E. 2d 559, 560 (Ct.App.1959). The statutory language relied on by the sheriff herein is the following in N.J.S.A. 22A:4-8:

When a sale is made by virtue of an execution the sheriff shall be entitled to charge the following fees: On all sums not exceeding $1,000.00, 4%; on all sums exceeding $1,000.00 on such excess, 2 1/2%; the minimum fee to be charged for a sale by virtue of an execution, $6.00.

When the execution is settled without actual sale and such settlement is made manifest to the officer, the officer shall receive 1/2 of the amount of percentage allowed herein in case of sale.

Recognizing that the foregoing pertains only to services rendered in connection with execution sales, and since cash cannot be the subject of sale, N.J.S.A. 2A:17-15, the sheriff contends, as the Chancery Division held, that he should also have the benefit of other legislation which is in pari materia. In particular, it is argued that N.J.S.A. 22A:2-38, which specifically allows fees to constables and sergeants at arms for executions on cash, should be extended to such executions performed by sheriffs as well. Underlying the judgment before us is the rationale that since the sheriff's "trouble, care, and risk" is no less than the constable's in levying upon cash it would be unjust to deprive him of compensation for his efforts.

The difficulty with the argument propounded is that the Legislature has clearly and deliberately chosen to enact one program of commissions for sheriffs and a distinctly different one for constables and sergeants at arms. We are required to enforce the legislative intent as written, "'and not according to some supposed unexpressed intention.'". Hoffman v. Hock , 8 N.J. 397, 409 (1952); Lehmann v. Kanane , 88 N.J. Super. 262, 265 (App.Div.1965), certif. den. 45 N.J. 591 (1965). Even "where the path is not clear, then the courts should refrain from usurping the legislative function." Property Owners Ass'n of N. Bergen v. North Bergen Tp. , 74 N.J. 327, 338 (1977).

It is far better to wait for necessary corrections by those authorized to make them, or, in fact, for them to remain unmade, however desirable they may be, than for judicial tribunals to transcend the just limits of their constitutional powers. [ Railroad Comm'n v. Grand Trunk Western R. Co. , 179 Ind. 255, 100 N.E. 852, 855 (Sup.Ct.1913)]

And see 2A Sutherland, Statutory Construction (4 ed. 1973), § 47.38 at 173.

The rule that statutes in pari materia are to be construed together is one which may be helpful in resolving doubts and uncertainties and in ascertaining the legislative intent. State v. Green , 62 N.J. 547, 554-555 (1973). But it is merely an aid to the interpretation of doubtful or ambiguous statutes, and where, as here, "an act is plain and unambiguous in its terms, the rule is fundamental ...


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