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East Brunswick Board of Education v. East Brunswick Education Association

Decided: August 14, 1989.

EAST BRUNSWICK BOARD OF EDUCATION, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
EAST BRUNSWICK EDUCATION ASSOCIATION; ROSALIE TRIOZZI, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF EAST BRUNSWICK EDUCATION ASSOCIATION; AND ALL MEMBERS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS AND REPRESENTATIVES OF THE COLLECTIVE NEGOTIATIONS UNIT REPRESENTED BY EAST BRUNSWICK EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITY AS SUCH MEMBERS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS AND REPRESENTATIVES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Middlesex County.

J.h. Coleman and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by D'Annunzio, J.A.D.

D'annunzio

[235 NJSuper Page 418] This litigation arises out of a strike by teachers and other school employees which began on October 1, 1984. On the same date, plaintiff East Brunswick Board of Education (Board) filed a complaint with the Chancery Division seeking an injunction and damages against defendant, East Brunswick Education Association (Association) and others. The Chancery Division issued an order to show cause on October 1, 1984, which included a temporary restraining order enjoining defendants "from engaging in the concerted job action . . . and from any other concerted refusal to perform services in violation of law."

The next day, October 2, 1984, in response to the Board's motion to enforce litigant's rights, R. 1:10-5, the Chancery Division issued an order finding that defendants were in violation of the October 1 restraining order and ordering that the Association "shall be fined at the rate of $10,000 per day, commencing October 5, 1984, plus such attorneys fees and costs as the plaintiff has incurred in the prosecution of this action" in the event defendants did not comply with the October 1 restraining order by October 5, 1984.

On October 5, 1984, the return date of the original order to show cause, the October 1 restraining order was continued "until further order of the court." The October 5 order also contained a decretal paragraph ordering "that defendant East Brunswick Education Association is sanctioned, in the sum of $10,000 for violating the October 1, 1984 restraining order of this court on October 5, 1984" and "that the sanction . . . shall be effective for each day hereafter that said violation continues."

The dispute giving rise to the strike was settled on October 15, 1984 at which time the monetary sanctions imposed on the Association totaled $70,000. Three days earlier, on October 12, 1984, the Chancery Division had ordered the Association to deposit $6,000 with the Clerk of the Superior Court and to continue to deposit all revenues received by it, with certain exceptions, until further order of the court.

On October 3, 1986, the Association transmitted to the Superior Court Clerk $9,350, which brought the total payments by the Association to $70,000, equaling the total sanction imposed for seven days noncompliance with the restraining order. In April 1988, the Board moved for an order releasing the funds on deposit to it. The Association cross-moved for an order "reducing the fine" to $50 a day and returning the balance on deposit to it. On July 25, 1988, the Chancery Division entered a final

judgment*fn1 that the Board was entitled to the fund and ordering "that final judgment be entered in this matter terminating this action." The trial judge stayed the judgment pending appeal.

The Association, relying on N.J. Dept. of Health v. Roselle, 34 N.J. 331 (1961) and Passaic Tp. Bd. of Ed. v. Ed. Ass'n., 222 N.J. Super. 298 (App.Div.1987) contends that a daily monetary sanction imposed to compel compliance with a court order may not exceed $50 under N.J.S.A. 2A:10-5. That statute, one of eight dealing with contempt of court which constitute chapter 10 of Title 2A, provides:

Any person who shall be adjudged in contempt of the superior court or county court by reason of his disobedience to a judgment, order or process of the court, shall, where the contempt is primarily civil in nature and before he is discharged therefrom, pay to the clerk of the court, for the use of the state or the county, as the case may be, for every such contempt, a sum not exceeding $50 as a fine, to be imposed by the court, together with the costs incurred.

In Roselle, Chief Justice Weintraub wrote extensively about contempt of court and criticized the terminology "criminal contempt" as redundant and "civil contempt" as meaningless. "The word 'contempt' signifies a public offense. It refers to a contempt of government ; there is no such thing as a contempt of a litigant. The expression 'criminal contempt' is as redundant as 'criminal crime,' and to talk of 'civil contempt' is to talk of 'civil crime.'" Roselle, supra 34 N.J. at 337. Thus, contempt is an offense against governmental authority and a proceeding to punish for a contempt is criminal. On the other hand, a proceeding to afford a litigant supplemental relief from an adverse party's failure to obey a court's order is civil, though historically it was referred to as a civil contempt proceeding. Id. at 336-338.

The object of a civil proceeding to afford supplemental relief to a litigant, R. 1:10-5, is to enforce a court's order. Unlike a contempt ...


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