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Township of Cedar Grove v. Sheridan

Decided: April 15, 1986.

TOWNSHIP OF CEDAR GROVE, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN P. SHERIDAN, JR., COMMISSIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the State of New Jersey Department of Transportation.

Michels, Gaulkin and Deighan. The opinion of the court was delivered by Deighan, J.A.D.

Deighan

[209 NJSuper Page 269] The issue on this appeal is whether a municipality is entitled to an adjudicatory, or any other type of hearing, prior to the installation of a traffic control signal on a State Highway by the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The Township of Cedar Grove (Cedar Grove) appeals from the decision of the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) approving the installation of a traffic control signal at the intersection of State Highway Route 23 and Claridge Drive in the Borough of

Verona (Verona). Route 23 at this intersection is a dividing line between Cedar Grove and Verona. On application, Verona was granted leave to appear as amicus curiae in order to file a brief in favor of the decision to install the traffic signal.

Route 23 runs north and south between Verona and Cedar Grove. On its east side, Route 23 forms a T intersection with Claridge Drive in Verona, a private roadway which provides the only access to an apartment and condominium complex accommodating approximately 1,000 residents. Directly adjacent to Claridge Drive is a shopping center which has a traffic signal at its Route 23 entrance 300 feet north of the intersection of Claridge Drive. On its west side, approximately 50 feet south of the intersection with Claridge Drive, Route 23 forms a T intersection with Franklin Street in Cedar Grove, a municipal roadway connecting other streets in a residential neighborhood.

Since 1971, the DOT has received letters from residents and officials of Verona, as well as from State legislators, pointing out the dangers of the Route 23 and Claridge Drive intersection. The basic concern was the difficulty in making a left hand turn from Claridge Drive onto the southbound lanes of Route 23, a four lane highway. In 1972, the DOT investigated and rejected the installation of a traffic control signal at this intersection because of the close proximity of the traffic signal which regulates traffic entering and exiting the shopping center. A suggestion to prohibit left hand turns from Claridge Drive was considered and also rejected by the DOT. However, the DOT informed the Mayor of Verona that it would not object to an access road between Claridge Drive through the shopping center parking lot so that Claridge Drive motorists could use the shopping center traffic signal to make left hand turns onto Route 23.

In September 1981, the DOT again investigated the traffic problem at this intersection. Although a vehicle and pedestrian count indicated that a traffic control signal at the intersection was warranted, again no signal was installed because of the

proximity of the traffic signal located at the shopping center entrance. In June 1984, the plan involving a private access road through the shopping center was revived. The DOT sent a sketch of the proposed driveway to a representative of the condominium owners. Due to problems in allocating the responsibility for the maintenance of the access road, this alternative was ruled out.

Responding to the complaints of numerous citizens in Verona, and possibly "political pressure" as contended by Cedar Grove, the DOT subsequently withdrew its opposition to installation of a traffic signal at the intersection. Both Cedar Grove and Verona were notified by the DOT of the proposal to install the traffic signal. When Cedar Grove and its residents learned of the plan, they voiced strenuous opposition because the plan precluded left hand turns from Franklin Avenue in Cedar Grove onto Route 23. Cedar Grove requested a postponement of the project in order to present its views. The DOT acknowledged the opposition and assured Cedar Grove that it would consider its concerns, but refused to schedule a hearing. On December 17, 1984, the DOT officially notified the Mayors of Cedar Grove and Verona of its decision to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Route 23 and Claridge Drive and to prohibit left hand turns from Franklin Street onto Route 23. Cedar Grove appealed. We affirm.

I.

Cedar Grove contends that: (1) it is entitled to a plenary hearing to present its views and opposition to the installation of the traffic signal; (2) the decision of the DOT to install the traffic signal does not contain sufficient findings of fact; and (3) the decision (a) is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, (b) is not supported by the record, and (c) was contrary to the DOT's procedure.

In addition to denying the contentions of Cedar Grove, the DOT argues that Cedar Grove, as a municipal corporation, has

no rights under the Federal Constitution which may be invoked against the State and further contends that a municipality cannot challenge the actions of the State as a representative of its taxpayers, citing Trenton v. New Jersey, 262 U.S. 182, 185-186, 43 S. Ct. 534, 536, 67 L. Ed. 937 (1923); Newark v. New Jersey, 262 U.S. 192, 196, 43 S. Ct. 539, 540, 67 L. Ed. 943 (1923); Bergen County v. Port of N.Y. Authority, et al., 32 N.J. 303 (1960), and Bor. of Pitman v. Skokowski, 193 N.J. Super. 215 (App.Div.1984). In opposition, Cedar Grove relies upon Tp. of Dover v. Bd. of Adj. of Tp. of Dover, 158 N.J. Super. 401 (App.Div.1978); Application of John Madin/Lordland Development, 201 N.J. Super. 105 (App.Div.1985).

In the seminal case of Bergen County v. Port of N.Y. Authority, et al., the New Jersey Supreme Court, in affirming the dismissal of the complaint, interpreted the county's action as an attempt "to vindicate the general public interest upon an allegation that another agency of government, the Port Authority, is exceeding its statutory powers." Id. 32 N.J. at 311. The Court held that the county could not "assume the role of defender of the general public interest," id., and could not "attack the actions of other state agencies solely on the thesis that it represents its citizen taxpayers." Id. at 315.

In Dover, the municipality instituted an action against its Board of Adjustment. This court held that the municipality had standing to file an action because it asserted an intrusion into its exclusive sphere of governmental action by another public body. 158 N.J. Super. at 410. "The injury complained of moreover, [was] not merely the individual or collective one of its taxpayers or citizens but also an injury to it in its corporate capacity." Id. See 17 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, ยง 49.02 at 122 (1982). In Madin, this court held that the planning boards of two ...


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