On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Special Civil Part, Essex County.
Dreier and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.
Plaintiff Rosanna's Figure Salon, Inc. was the lessee of premises in a building owned by Universal Transmission, Inc. The termination date of Rosanna's lease was May 31, 1995, but paragraph 12 of the lease gave the landlord the option to terminate it at an earlier date if the premises were taken by eminent domain or sold to a public body in lieu of condemnation.*fn1
On May 24, 1989, Bloomfield acquired the property by a conveyance from Universal. Universal did not notify Rosanna's that it was terminating the lease. Rosanna's and Bloomfield both agree that the conveyance was in lieu of condemnation. Following the conveyance, Rosanna's paid its rent directly to Bloomfield pursuant to Bloomfield's direction.
On November 21, 1989, Bloomfield notified Rosanna's "to vacate and quit the premises . . . now occupied by Rosanna's Figure Salon, Inc. . . . and to deliver possession thereof to the Township of Bloomfield or its duly authorized agents." Rosanna's refused, contending that Bloomfield had accepted its attornment, that its lease would remain in effect until May 31, 1995, and that Bloomfield could acquire possession of the premises before that date only by condemning its leasehold interest.
On March 26, 1990, Bloomfield commenced a summary eviction proceeding in the Special Civil Part of the Law Division, Superior Court, to compel Rosanna's to vacate the premises. Bloomfield's complaint alleged that it had acquired title to the premises on March 24, 1989, that the written lease between the Rosanna's and the prior owner "has been terminated by the plaintiff, Township of Bloomfield, pursuant to the terms therein and is void and of no force and effect," that the Township had demanded possession and served a notice to vacate, and that Rosanna's had refused to comply. Bloomfield asked for immediate possession.
Rosanna's moved to transfer the suit to the Law Division, General Civil Part, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-60 and R. 6:4-1(g), and to file an answer asserting that the lease had not been
terminated, that the Township had ratified the lease, and that the lease would continue in effect until 1995. Rosanna's also sought to counterclaim for damages and to compel the Township to condemn its leasehold interest. The motion was denied.
Following a trial, the court held that Bloomfield, as the successor landlord, was entitled to exercise the landlord's option to terminate the lease and that its November 21, 1989 notice was effective both as a notice to terminate and, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53 and -56, as demand for possession and notice to quit.
Rosanna's has appealed. It contends that the trial court committed error by refusing to grant its transfer motion; that Universal did not purport to terminate the lease in accordance with paragraph 12 of its terms and Bloomfield did not have the power to terminate it; and that the Special Civil Part lacked jurisdiction to enter a judgment of eviction because Rosanna's had not been served with a valid notice to quit and demand for possession. The Township of Bloomfield argues that by virtue of N.J.S.A. 2A:18-59, the judgment of possession entered in its favor is not appealable.
N.J.S.A. 2A:18-59 declares that judgments entered in summary actions for possession "shall not be appealable except on the ground of lack of jurisdiction." In Housing Authority, Newark v. West, 69 N.J. 293, 296-301, 354 A.2d 65 (1976), the Supreme Court interpreted that language in a way which substantially reduced or eliminated any practical difference between the scope of appellate review of final judgments entered in summary actions for possession and final judgments entered in ordinary non-jury actions in the Law Division. See Housing Auth. of City of E. Orange v. Mishoe, 201 N.J. Super. 352, 358, 493 A.2d 56 (App.Div.1985); see also Marini v. Ireland, 56 N.J. 130, 140, n. 1, 265 A.2d 526 (1970).
When Housing Authority, Newark v. West, supra, 69 N.J. 293, 354 A.2d 65, was decided, summary eviction proceedings were heard in the County District Courts. See N.J.S.A. 2A:18-53. Following the adoption of the 1978 constitutional amendment which abolished the County Courts, N.J.Const., Art. VI, § 1, the County District Courts were eliminated by statute effective December 30, 1983, N.J.S.A. 2A:4-3a et seq. A Supreme Court order effective December 31, 1983 established the Special Civil Part within the Law Division of the Superior Court and provided that summary actions for possession would be cognizable there. Those actions are now heard in the Special Civil Part by virtue of R. 6:1-2(a)(3).*fn2
The County District Courts were not constitutional courts. Established by statute, they were "courts of limited jurisdiction" within the meaning of N.J.Const., Art. VI, § 1, para. 1.*fn3 Since such "courts and their jurisdiction may from time to time be established, altered or abolished by law," Art. VI, § 1, para. 1, the appealability of their judgments was subject to restriction by statute. ...