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Blazer Corp. v. New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority

Decided: February 28, 1984.


Yanoff, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned) (Retired, on Recall).


A summary judgment motion based in large part on the thesis that plaintiff's cause of action is time barred raises the issues herein. The case is ripe for disposition because of admissions in pleadings and verifications, and statements made by counsel during oral argument. Defendants urge that plaintiff's cause of action comes within the Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq., and is time barred by either the two-year limitation therein, N.J.S.A. 59:8-8, or the six-year Statute of Limitations, N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1. The date most favorable to plaintiff is August 14, 1975, when Blazer Corporation was forcibly evicted from its premises. The action herein was instituted in 1983, more than six years later.

Plaintiff, in answer, argues that defendant New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (hereafter Authority) is not a "public entity" within the protection of the Tort Claims Act, because it has the power to sue and be sued. Plaintiff urges also that in any event "the instant cause of action is predicated upon the violation of state statutes by defendants for which there is no limitation of time in New Jersey." In support, plaintiff cites: Cowenhoven v. Freeholders, 44 N.J.L. 232 (Sup.Ct.1882); Mayor of Jersey City v. Sackett, 44 N.J.L. 428 (E. & A.1882); McFarlan v. Morris Canal & Banking Co., 44 N.J.L. 471 (Sup.Ct.1882); Outwater v. Passaic, 51 N.J.L. 345 (Sup.Ct.1889); Warren Cty. v. Harden, 95 N.J.L. 122 (E. & A.1920); Miller v. Hudson Cty. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, 16 N.J. Super. 457 (App.Div.1951);*fn1 Lavin v. Hackensack Bd. of Educ., 90 N.J. 145 (1982).

Before August 14, 1975, a corporation bearing the same name as plaintiff owned a tract of land in the Meadowlands which was taken pursuant to eminent domain by defendant Authority for which the corporation received approximately $2 million.

Blazer Corporation then was adjudicated bankrupt. Plaintiff is the purchaser of the assets at the bankruptcy sale. Included among the assets purchased was the name of Blazer Corporation. However, the plaintiff in this case is not the same entity as the defendant in the eminent domain proceedings.

Plaintiff's claim against Authority and its then officers is postulated on a failure of Authority to properly implement N.J.S.A. 52:31B-1 et seq., the "Relocation Assistance Law of 1967" and N.J.S.A. 20:4-1 et seq., the "Relocation Assistance Act", and administrative regulations implementing the statutes. N.J.S.A. 52:31B-4(a) provides in part:

Whenever any State agency . . . causes to be displaced, any person or business concern from any real property on account of the acquisition of real property for a public use, . . . any such State agency . . . shall make fair and reasonable relocation assistance payments to any such displaced person or business concern as hereinafter provided in this section.

N.J.S.A. 52:31B-4(c) and N.J.S.A. 20:4-4 limit relocation expense reimbursement. The maximum recoverable under N.J.S.A. 20:4-4(c) is $10,000.

It is not necessary to recite the alleged failures of Authority to conform to the requirements of the statute and administrative regulations, because I have determined that the action is time barred as to both Authority and its officers.

The first phase of this action occurred in the Federal District Court of New Jersey. The allegations of the complaint filed there are almost the same as those here, except that its theory was that Authority's failure to implement the requirements of N.J.S.A. 52:31B-1 et seq. and N.J.S.A. 20:4-1 et seq. and cited administrative regulations constituted a constitutional violation which entitled plaintiff to relief under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. A federal district court judge denied a motion to dismiss, holding that plaintiff made out a § 1983 cause of action. Subsequently,

Judge Harold Ackerman, sitting in that court, dismissed all causes of action against Authority and the individual defendants on the grounds that the Tort Claims Act's two-year statute of limitations barred recovery as to Authority, and that no cause of action could be maintained against the individual defendants because "liability under § 1983 cannot be predicated on notions of respondeat superior." The Third Circuit, under date of December 2, 1982, affirmed the final order granting summary judgment against plaintiff on the sole ground that ". . . the complaint fails to state a cause of action for violation of that section [1983]." The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari on June 13, 1983.

This action was instituted within four months thereafter.

Plaintiff, citing Bell v. Bell, 83 N.J. 417 (1980), contends that Authority is not a public entity within the meaning of the Tort Claims Act.

The relevant terms are defined in the statute:

"Public entity" includes the State, and any county, municipality, district, public authority, public agency, and any other political subdivision or public body in the State.

"State" shall mean the State and any office, department, division, bureau, board, commission or agency of the State, but shall not include any such entity which is statutorily authorized to sue and be sued. [ N.J.S.A. 59:1-3.]

However, Bell is not in point. There, the Delaware River Port Authority was held not within the Tort Claims Act, even though it had power to sue and be sued, because it was a bi-state agency and because the New Jersey Legislature lacked the "power to modify by unilateral action waiver of sovereign immunity set forth in the bi-state compact." Id. at 424.

In Wade v. N.J. Turnpike Authority, 132 N.J. Super. 92 (Law Div.1975), the Court rejected plaintiff's position. Addressing the precise argument made by plaintiff, the Court ruled that the provision excluding State subdivisions with power to sue and be ...

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