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State v. CompUSA

March 18, 1996

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, *FN1 PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
COMPUSA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County.

Approved for Publication March 18, 1996.

Before Judges Pressler, Wefing and A.a. Rodriguez. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.j.a.d.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pressler

The opinion of the court was delivered by PRESSLER, P.J.A.D.

The question raised by this appeal is whether the labeling requirements of N.J.S.A. 51:1-29 apply to packages containing computer accessories, more particularly, keyboards, power surge protectors and computer extension cords. We conclude that they do not, and accordingly, we reverse the conviction appealed from.

On April 7, 1994, Robert Alviene, the Assistant Superintendent of Weights and Measures of Morris County, inspected the retail premises of defendant CompUSA in Parsippany. He found eighteen packages each containing a six-foot extension cord, fifteen packages each containing a computer keyboard, and thirty-five packages each containing a power surge protector, none of which packages bore the name of the manufacturer, packer or distributor. He issued summonses against CompUSA charging sixty-eight violations of N.J.S.A. 51:1-29a(2) and its implementing regulation, N.J.A.C. 13:47K-4.5. CompUSA was convicted in the municipal court and fined $6,800 plus court costs of $1,700. The conviction was sustained on a trial de novo in the Law Division. Defendant appeals, and we reverse.

The statute we are called upon here to construe has received little judicial attention in the past and none in its present form, that is, as amended in 1986 by L. 1986, c. 167. Nevertheless earlier interpretations and the apparent legislative and regulatory responses persuade us that the computer accessories here in issue are not within the category of primarily consumable, expendable, and largely fungible commodities intended to be encompassed by the statute. We are also persuaded that the statute was not intended to and cannot reasonably be construed to apply to durable hardware items customarily sold as single units.

The statute, N.J.S.A. 51:1-29, is an integral component of Article 2 of Chapter 1 of Title 51. Title 51 is entitled "Standards, Weights, Measures and Containers." Chapter 1 is entitled "Weights, Measures, and Containers." Article 2 is entitled "Standards." The obvious purpose of the legislation, insofar as it prescribes labeling requirements, is to assure that when consumers buy certain quantifiable commodities, whether quantified by weight, measure or count, a reliable representation must be made to them of the precise quantity they are buying. See generally State, Etc. v. Miner Industries, Inc., 177 N.J. Super. 153 (App. Div. 1981); State v. Seligson, 106 N.J. Super. 329, 255 A.2d 795 (App. Div. 1969); State v. S. & W. Waldman, Inc., 61 N.J. Super. 403, 160 A.2d 677 (Cty. Ct. 1960). N.J.S.A. 51:1-29a addresses those commodities that are sold in packages. It provides in full as follows:

a. No person shall distribute, expose for sale, sell, or have in his possession with intent to distribute, expose for sale or sell any article or commodity in package form, unless the label bears statements:

(1) Specifying the identity of the commodity in common terms;

(2) Identifying the legal name and principal place of business of the manufacturer, packer or distributor. The statement shall include the street address, city, state and zip code, except that the street address may be omitted if it is shown in a current city directory or telephone directory. If a person manufactures, packs or distributes a commodity in package form at a place other than his principal place of business, the statement may contain the principal place of business address in lieu of the actual place where the commodity was manufactured, packed or is to be distributed, unless that statement would be misleading. Packages packed on the premises where sold shall not be required to comply with this paragraph; and,

(3) Specifying the net quantity of the contents by weight, measure, count or volume, as prescribed by the State superintendent.

Some definitional content is afforded by the 1986 amendments. Thus N.J.S.A. 51:1-2a defines "commodity" as

any article of food, drink, trade or commerce, or any service or amusement, goods, ware, merchandise, or fuel measured by any weighing and measuring ...


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