On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.
Brody and Cohen. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.
Plaintiff contends that its manufacturing business was ruined when defendant New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (the Authority) condemned its factory to build the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The complaint demands damages from the Authority and its members for allegedly forcing plaintiff into bankruptcy by evicting it without first offering it the valuable relocation advice, services and financial aid that must be offered a tenant of condemned property pursuant to the Relocation Assistance Law of 1967 (N.J.S.A. 52:31B-1 et seq.), the Relocation Assistance Act (N.J.S.A. 20:4-1 et seq.) and various implementing regulations.*fn1
Plaintiff was evicted August 15, 1974.*fn2 After conclusion of the bankruptcy proceedings, it first litigated these claims in a federal action brought exclusively under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. That action was commenced on August 13, 1980, two days short of six years after the eviction. The federal district court summarily dismissed all claims before trial, the Third Circuit affirmed and the United States Supreme Court denied plaintiff's petition for a writ of certiorari on June 13, 1983. Plaintiff commenced the present action 109 days later, on September 30, 1983. Plaintiff acknowledges that "the claims urged in the instant action formed the foundation of the Section 1983 action in the federal court."
In an opinion reported at 195 N.J. Super. 542, the Law Division held that this action was time-barred and entered summary judgment for all defendants. It determined that the claim against the Authority must be brought in accordance with the provisions of the Tort Claims Act (N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq.) because that claim is against a "public entity" for an "injury" as those terms are defined by N.J.S.A. 59:1-3. It held that the
claim was barred by the two-year limitations period found in N.J.S.A. 59:8-8. The trial court further held that the claims against the individual defendants were also barred by the same statute (even though N.J.S.A. 59:8-8 does not expressly refer to claims against public employees) or by the six-year limitations period found in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1, the general statute of limitations for a "tortious injury" or a "contractual claim" other than a claim for personal injury. Finally, the court held that plaintiff was also barred by the doctrine of laches.
Plaintiff raised only two points below respecting the time-bar defenses. It contended that its claims are "predicated upon the violation of state statutes" that contain no limitations period and are therefore not subject to the general statute of limitations or the Tort Claims Act limitations period. It also argued that the doctrine of laches cannot be summarily applied given the facts of this case. On appeal plaintiff adds that defendants are "equitably barred" from asserting any time-bar defense because they were responsible for the extended bankruptcy proceedings during which plaintiff was unable to assert these claims, the bankruptcy trustee having declined to undertake the expense of litigating them. Plaintiff further argues that the running of any limitations period should be tolled during the three years its claims were pending in the federal courts. We decline to pass on the issues raised by the time-bar defenses.
The trial judge did not find it necessary to discuss defendants' alternate reason for summary judgment although it was their main point below. Defendants argued then and argue now that plaintiff should be precluded by the single controversy doctrine from litigating its present claims, which are based on state law, because it failed to assert them in the federal court action. The argument is sound and we affirm on that ground.
The history and rationale for the single controversy doctrine were thoroughly reviewed by Justice Handler in Crispin v.
Volkswagenwerk, A.G., 96 N.J. 336, 348-351 (1984) (concurring opinion). He stated the doctrine as follows:
The entire controversy doctrine is a principle of judicial administration relating to the procedural disposition of a controversy that has reached the courts and must be resolved by judicial action. The entire controversy doctrine, properly understood, encompasses all judicially cognizable facets of a dispute. The doctrine therefore reasonably requires the joinder, in a single action leading to a comprehensive disposition, of all claims and persons implicated in the entire controversy when failure to effect ...