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Township Committee of Township of Neptune v. Stagg

June 04, 1998

TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF NEPTUNE AND PATRICIA A. MONROE, MAYOR OF TOWNSHIP OF NEPTUNE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
PETER STAGG, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT. TOWNSHIP OF NEPTUNE SEWERAGE AUTHORITY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF NEPTUNE AND PATRICIA A. MONROE, MAYOR OF THE TOWNSHIP OF NEPTUNE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Before Judges Shebell, D'Annunzio and Coburn.

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

[9]    Argued May 28, 1998

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

The opinion of the court was delivered by

On May 15, 1997, the Township Committee of the Township of Neptune and Patricia A. Monroe, Mayor of the Township of Neptune (Neptune), filed a verified complaint in lieu of prerogative writ against defendant, Peter Stagg (Stagg), seeking judgment against Stagg declaring his continued membership on the Township of Neptune Sewerage Authority (Authority) to be illegal and ordering him to relinquish his seat. On May 20, 1997, the Judge signed an Order to Show Cause as to why the relief sought by plaintiffs should not be granted.

On June 6, 1997, the Authority filed a verified complaint against plaintiffs in the first action demanding judgment declaring that residency is not a prerequisite for Stagg*s continued employment. On the same date, the Judge signed an Order to Show Cause setting a hearing date as to why the relief sought by the Authority should not be granted. On June 19, 1997, the Judge signed an order consolidating the two actions.

On June 23, 1997, Florence R. Peskoe, J.S.C., granted the relief sought by the Authority, and on June 26, 1997, she issued a letter opinion setting forth her reasons. This appeal followed on July 24, 1997. We affirm.

The Authority was created by the Township Committee pursuant to the Sewerage Authorities Law, N.J.S.A. 40:14A-1 to 37. On January 17, 1995, Stagg was appointed to the Authority for a five (5) year term expiring on February 1, 2000. At the time of his appointment, he was a resident of Neptune. However, during the course of his appointment, Stagg relocated to nearby Wall Township.

In a letter dated April 17, 1997, Neptune's Attorney requested confirmation that Stagg had become a resident of Wall Township and inquired if Stagg was resigning his position. The Authority's attorney confirmed that Stagg was no longer a resident of Neptune, but stated that Stagg had no intention of resigning.

The Judge, in her letter opinion granting the Authority relief, held that the Legislature chose not to include a residency requirement in N.J.S.A. 40:14A-4(a)-(c) and, therefore, the court had no basis to read one into the statute. The Judge concluded that "[s]ince no other statute or ordinance dealing with sewerage authority membership qualifications addresses the residency issue, the court must declare that residency in Neptune is not a prerequisite for Peter Stagg to continue as a member of the Authority."

Neptune argues that the court erred in granting the relief sought by the Authority, because Stagg, as a non-resident, is illegally serving as a member of Neptune's Authority. The Authority argues that while the statute may be silent on the issue of residency, such a requirement must be read into the statute.

The construction of any statute begins with consideration of its plain language. Board of Educ. of Neptune Township v. Neptune Township Educ. Assoc., 144 N.J. 16, 25 (1996) (citing Merin v. Maglaki, 126 N.J. 430, 434 (1992)); State v. Sutton, 132 N.J. 471, 479 (1993). A statute should be given its plain meaning if it is "clear and unambiguous on its face and admits of only one interpretation." Board of Educ. of Neptune Township, supra, 144 N.J. at 25 (quoting State v. Butler, 89 N.J. 220, 226 (1982)). A statute's meaning should be sought in the language in which it is framed, and if that is plain, the sole function of the courts is to enforce it according to its terms. Manzo v. Shawmut Bank, N.A., 291 N.J. Super. 194, 206 (App. Div. 1996) (quoting Sheeran v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 80 N.J. 548, 556 (1979)). However, if a literal reading of the statute does not lead to a sensible result, then such a reading should be rejected. Id. at 206 (citing Schierstead v. Brigantine, 29 N.J. 220, 231 (1959)).

N.J.S.A. 40:14A-4(b) provides:

The governing body of any municipality may, by ordinance duly adopted, create public body corporate and politic under the name and style of "the...sewerage authority," with all or any significant part of the name of such municipality inserted. A sewerage authority created pursuant to this section by a municipality other than a city of the first class shall consist of five members and a sewerage authority created pursuant to this section by a municipality which is a city of the first class shall consist of five or seven members, as determined by the governing body. Members of the sewerage authority shall be appointed by resolution of the governing body as hereinafter in this section provided, and the authority shall constitute the sewerage authority contemplated and provided for in this act and an agency and instrumentality of said municipality. After the taking effect of such ordinance and the filing of a certified copy thereof as in subsection (d) of this section provided, the members of the ...


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