On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County.
Bischoff, Milmed and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Milmed, J.A.D.
[178 NJSuper Page 271] Pursuant to referendum held in November 1974, the voters of the Township of Cherry Hill (township) adopted the Council-Manager Plan B form of government provided in Article 10 of the Optional Municipal Charter Law, N.J.S.A. 40:69A-1 et seq. At the general election held November 4, 1980 the voters of the township adopted the Mayor-Council Plan B form of government provided in Article 4 of the same statute. The next regular municipal election in the township, to be held May 12, 1981, will call for the election of a mayor and seven council members to take office under the new form of government beginning July 1, 1981. Thus, in light of the adoption of L. 1980, c. 75, approved and effective July 24, 1980, plaintiff-respondent township clerk sought a declaratory judgment in the Law Division determining whether the township must conduct a runoff election where, in regard to any of the respective offices, no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast. She also sought certification of the action as a class action "binding upon all candidates who will eventually file nominating petitions."
The trial judge who heard the matter denied plaintiff's application for certification of the matter as a class action and dismissed the complaint "for lack of a justiciable controversy." This appeal followed. We heard the matter on an accelerated basis and reverse.
In her complaint filed in the Law Division plaintiff asserted, in essence, that because of the operation of L. 1980, c. 75, it is unclear whether a runoff election would be required where, at the municipal election to be held May 12, no candidate for any of the respective offices (mayor or member of the township council) to be voted on receives a majority of the votes cast for that office. She asked for a judicial determination of the issue
It appears that in the trial court varying views were advanced by the parties regarding the meaning of L. 1980, c. 75, and whether, under that statute, runoff elections are now required in the township. It is obvious from the briefs submitted to us and the oral argument before this court that there was an actual and bona fide controversy between at least some of the parties which involved differing viewpoints as to the meaning of pertinent provisions of the legislation. The situation thus came within the ambit of the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act N.J.S.A. 2A:16-50 et seq. , a remedial statute designed "to settle and afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status and other legal relations." N.J.S.A. 2A:16-51. A justiciable controversy existed which was ripe for judicial determination. As Justice Jacobs observed for a unanimous Supreme Court in Union Cty. Freeholder Bd. v. Union Cty. Park Comm'n , 41 N.J. 333 (1964):
Any judicial hostility to its use is a thing of the past for the act is now well-recognized as remedial in nature and entitled to liberal construction and administration. [at 336]
Additionally, it appears that the requirements of R. 4:32-1 were sufficiently met and that plaintiff's application to have the matter certified as a class action should have been granted.
The legislation which became Chapter 75 of the Laws of 1980 was introduced in the Senate as Senate Bill 738. The Senate County and Municipal Government Committee Statement to the bill, dated May 5, 1980, points out in its opening paragraph:
Senate Bill No. 738 would eliminate run-off elections in municipalities which have adopted a Mayor-Council Plan B or C, or Council-Manager Plan A, B, C or D, form of government under the Faulkner Act (P.L.1950, c. 210; C. 40:69A-161), by allowing candidates receiving the greatest number of votes to be elected to office and eliminating the requirement for majority votes.
The Assembly Municipal Government Committee Statement to the bill, dated June 16, 1980, reads:
This bill, as amended in the Senate, permits those 27 municipalities holding non-partisan elections under Faulkner Act Council-Manager Plans A, B, C, and D and Mayor-Council Plans A and D (adopted prior to 1956) and Mayor-Council B and C Plans to eliminate run-off election requirements through initiative and referendum procedures. The option to eliminate the runoff ...