On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.
As Corrected March 21, 1997.
Before Judges Petrella, Wallace and Kimmelman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Petrella, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Petrella
The opinion of the court was delivered by
The principal issue on appeal is whether a resident and taxpayer of a municipality has standing to bring an action to enforce a collective negotiation agreement between a public employer and a public employee union. *fn1 Stated differently, this appeal tests the limits to taxpayer standing in this State and whether a non-party to a labor agreement can intervene to enforce an interpretation of a contract provision and require expenditure of public funds thereunder.
Plaintiff Larry S. Loigman, a resident and taxpayer of the Township of Middletown, instituted suit to enforce a collective negotiation agreement between the Township of Middletown (Township) and the Middletown Township Superior Officers Association (SOA) *fn2 when the Township refused to implement a "Me Too" pay differential or parity clause in the agreement. That clause provides that each rank of superior officer would earn at least 12.5% more than its immediately subordinate rank.
The Law Division Judge rejected the Township's argument that Loigman had no standing to bring this suit and granted his motion for summary judgment without requiring a showing of "specific harm." In granting the motion, the Judge refused to consider the validity of the "Me Too" clause, noting that the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) had primary jurisdiction. However, his decision had the effect of implementing that clause without ruling on its validity. *fn3 The Judge also concluded that the agreement remained in effect because neither party to it had notified the other of its cancellation, as required by Article XXIX of the agreement.
On appeal the Township challenges the Judge's determination that Loigman had standing to sue. It also argues that the Judge improperly determined that the collective negotiation agreement between it and the SOA was still in effect; and erred in failing to find the "Me Too" clause illegal and unenforceable.
We agree with the Law Division Judge that the agreement was still in effect because no steps were ever taken to cancel it, although we express concern about the very limited window of opportunity for termination. The Judge also correctly determined that the validity of the "Me Too" provision of the agreement is an issue in the first instance for PERC. However, we conclude for the reasons hereinafter stated, that a taxpayer lacks standing to enforce a public sector labor agreement, as opposed to challenging any potential illegality of that agreement.
The Township adopted Ordinance 92-2314 in December 1992, approving salaries, increments and fringe benefits for the SOA, and incorporating the collective negotiation agreement for 1991 and 1992 between it and the Township. Article XXIII of this agreement, "Salary" provided: "Effective January 1, 1991, every SOA member will receive a base salary equal to the highest base salary paid to his immediate subordinate rank plus a differential of twelve-and-one-half (12 1/2) percent." *fn4
The agreement provided in Article XXIX, "Duration":
A. The term of this agreement shall be from January 1, 1991 through December 31, 1992.
B. In the absence of written notice given not more that [sic] one hundred eighty (180) nor less than one hundred fifty (150) days prior to the expiration date by either party, this agreement shall automatically be renewed for a period of another year, and from year to year thereafter, until such time as appropriate notice is given prior to the annual expiration in accordance with the terms of this article.
C. If, following receipt of such notice, negotiations have not been completed prior to termination date, this agreement may be extended for an additional thirty (30) days from its termination date, upon fifteen ...