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Baldwin Enterprises Inc. v. Town of Warwick

Decided: July 20, 1988.

BALDWIN ENTERPRISES, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWN OF WARWICK, NEW YORK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, VINCENT BROWN, SUPERVISOR AND THE BOARD OF THE TOWN OF WARWICK, JOHN FILIPOWSKI, JEROME FINE, GENE BARKER, GARY JUNDSBY, E. LEMIN, JIM LINTON, PETER MASKER, GEORGE T. RUSSELL, SCOTT RUSSELL, R. SCHERUERMANN, S.R. VAN DRYER, AND JAMES WATCH AND JOHN DOES #1-#10, NAMES BEING FICTITIOUS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Sussex County.

R. S. Cohen and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Landau, J.A.D.

Landau

[226 NJSuper Page 550] Plaintiff-appellant Baldwin Enterprises, Inc. (Baldwin) is a New Jersey corporation which operates a sand and gravel quarry in Sussex County. Following a telephone inquiry from the superintendent of highways in the town of Warwick, New York (Warwick) Baldwin quoted a price for road sand/grits. Thereafter in December 1985 and early January 1986, several oral orders for road sand or grits were issued by Warwick based on the quoted price; the materials were picked up by

Warwick trucks at the quarry in Sussex County; bills were issued from Baldwin and were apparently paid. Later that winter, in January and early February, several subsequent orders for similar materials, each less than $5,000, were handled in the same manner except for payment. Accumulated invoices for the subsequent orders totalled $13,398.

Through its attorney, defendant-respondent Warwick refused payment, asserting that the transactions violated Section 103 of the New York General Municipal Law which requires competitive bidding for public contracts which exceed $5,000.

There is no dispute that the materials were provided or that the quantity and quality were satisfactory. Baldwin sued Warwick and various Warwick public officials and employees, in the Law Division of the Superior Court, Sussex County. An answer was filed on behalf of Warwick and 11 of the officials and employees. It denied liability, but asserted no jurisdictional defenses.

On Baldwin's motion for summary judgment, the trial judge, sua sponte, raised an issue of jurisdiction. Briefs were submitted on the issue and the matter was subsequently dismissed when the trial judge found "that the court is without jurisdiction . . ." Review of the colloquy constituting the trial judge's opinion towards the conclusion of the oral argument discloses that the trial judge primarily relied upon our opinion in Liquid Carbonic Corp. v. City of New York, 150 N.J. Super. 119 (App.Div.1977), certif. den. 75 N.J. 522 (1977) in reaching that conclusion. In addition, the trial judge appeared to be convinced that the cause of action arose in New York.

In Liquid Carbonic, we held that notwithstanding the presence of enough contacts in the State of New Jersey to furnish a basis for jurisdiction in an ordinary case, considerations of "fundamental concepts of comity and public convenience" warranted dismissal of a complaint against the City of New York on jurisdictional grounds. Id. at 121. Perceiving that actions against municipal subdivisions were generally regarded as local

in nature, we exercised comity so as to permit institution of the action in the jurisdiction in which the municipality was situated. Id. Certification was denied 75 N.J. 522 (1977).

Since Liquid Carbonic was decided, the United States Supreme Court has held that there is no constitutional limitation upon the exercise of jurisdiction by the courts of one state over another state, even absent consent of the defendant state. Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 99 S. Ct. 1182, 59 L. Ed. 2d 416 (1979). In the present case, the issue of consent was not even raised until the trial judge questioned jurisdiction during the summary judgment proceeding.

As observed in Nevada v. Hall and recognized by us in Liquid Carbonic, a forum's restraint from exercise of jurisdiction rests upon broad notions of comity. The exercise of such comity may be affected by the policy of the forum state. In Nevada v. Hall, supra, the Supreme Court recognized that as to a Nevada-owned vehicle involved in a serious accident in California, California's policy of full compensation for victims of automobile accidents could be enforced notwithstanding Nevada's policy of limited tort liability in actions against the state.

The principal issue in this case is not whether New Jersey can exercise jurisdiction or whether it is a question of personal or subject matter jurisdiction, but whether New Jersey should defer to New York, after weighing the importance of the issue under policies of each state, and decline jurisdiction on principles of comity. Interstate Wrecking Co. v. Palisades Interstate Park Comm., 57 N.J. 342, 350 (1971). One important local interest, of course, is that of protection of citizens and businesses of this State. Another is the relative cost and inconvenience of requiring New Jersey parties to litigate in ...


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