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State v. Panther Valley Property Owners Association

January 15, 1998

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
PANTHER VALLEY PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



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

Before Judges Havey, Landau and Newman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Havey, P.j.a.d.

Argued September 22, 1997 -

Panther Valley is a gated residential community located in Allamuchy Township, Warren County. The community consists of over 2,000 single-family homes, townhouses and condominium units. The roads within the community are owned and maintained by defendant Panther Valley Property Owners Association (PVPOA), a New Jersey nonprofit corporation. In 1976, PVPOA filed a request, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:5A-1, that municipal or state law enforcement officials assume jurisdiction over the community's private roads in the enforcement of motor vehicle laws under Title 39. The request was approved by the Township and Commissioner of Transportation.

Plaintiff State of New Jersey, through the Warren County Prosecutor, filed a verified complaint and order to show cause in the Law Division to enjoin PVPOA from enforcing its own rules and regulations and imposing fines upon residents of the community for speeding and careless or reckless driving. The trial Judge granted summary judgment to plaintiff, concluding that once PVPOA ceded authority to enforce the motor vehicle laws under Title 39 to the State, PVPOA had no power to impose fines for motor vehicle violations under the provisions of its bylaws.

PVPOA now appeals, claiming that: (1) the prosecutor had no standing to challenge its bylaws by the institution of this suit; and (2) PVPOA retained coextensive powers to promulgate and enforce its own traffic regulations on its private roads pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:5A-3. We reject both contentions and affirm.

In 1968, Panther Valley's developer incorporated PVPOA and delegated to it the authority to maintain and administer the community's common property, including parks, playgrounds, open spaces and other facilities held for the benefit of the residents. Under the terms of the deed of conveyance and the association's bylaws, individuals purchasing property within the community automatically become members of PVPOA. PVPOA owns and maintains the private roads within the community.

In 1976, PVPOA submitted a written request to the Allamuchy Township Clerk that the Township assume jurisdiction over moving motor vehicle violations under Title 39 occurring on PVPOA's private roads. That request was made pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:5A-1, which provides:

Upon the filing of a written request by a person . . . or by the board of trustees of any corporation or other institution of a public or semipublic character not for pecuniary profit, incorporated under Title 15 of the Revised Statutes, with the clerk of any municipality of this State within which the property of such person, corporation or institution is situate, that the provisions of subtitle 1, Title 39, of the Revised Statutes shall be made applicable to the semipublic or private roads, streets, . . . open to or used by the public . . . for purposes of vehicular travel by permission of such persons, corporations or institutions and not as matter of public right, the provisions of subtitle 1, Title 39 . . . shall, in the discretion of the municipal authorities vested with the police powers in the locality within which the property . . . is situate, and with the approval of the Commissioner of Transportation of this State, be made applicable thereto.

Allamuchy Township and the State Commissioner of Transportation approved the request and, on February 20, 1976, the Commissioner established speed limits governing Panther Valley's private roads.

PVPOA's rules and regulations state that:

"The laws and ordinances of the state and local municipalities will be enforced only by the State Police or by the appropriate State and/or Municipal authorities."

Also, a sign at the entrance of the community advises that "all traffic regulations enforced under New Jersey Title 39." In April 1995, PVPOA amended its rules and regulations declaring that "Driving in excess of the posted speed limits and Reckless and/or Careless driving are prohibited." The rules establish a schedule of fines, which vary according to the number of the offender's previous violations and the recorded speed in excess of the posted speed limit. The collection of a fine is enforceable by the imposition of a lien upon the residence of the PVPOA member, even if a tenant of that member commits the violation.

Grady W. Cook, PVPOA's general manager, enforces PVPOA's speeding regulations by utilizing a K-15 radar unit to monitor speed. When a vehicle is observed speeding, Cook sends a letter to the residence to which the vehicle is registered. The letter advises the member of the amount of the fine ...


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