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Mullins v. Firist Night Wayne

November 23, 1999

JOHN T. MULLINS, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
FIRST NIGHT WAYNE AND TOWNSHIP OF WAYNE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.
RANDY DE LEO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
FIRST NIGHT WAYNE AND TOWNSHIP OF WAYNE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Before Judges Stern and Wefing.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wefing, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued: October 14, 1999

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Passaic County.

The Township of Wayne has appealed from a judgment entered against it following a bench trial in the Special Civil Part of the Law Division. We reverse.

In the early part of 1997, certain residents of Wayne met with the Township's Director of Parks and Recreation and explained that they were forming a volunteer organization known as First Night Wayne. The purpose of First Night Wayne was to organize and run a variety of non-alcohol-related entertainment events within the Township for New Year's Eve. They explained that similar events had been staged in a number of municipalities in New Jersey and across the nation. They told him they had met with representatives of various churches and synagogues in the Township to make arrangements to use their facilities for some of the events; they requested permission to utilize Township facilities as well. They did not ask for any financial contribution from the Township and the Township did not offer any.

Randy De Leo and John Mullins are musicians who, in November 1997, entered a contract with First Night Wayne, which had been incorporated as a separate entity, to perform on December 31, 1997. The agreed-upon fee was $750, to be paid within thirty-one days of their performance. When the contract was originally signed, it was unclear where De Leo and Mullins were to perform. Later, they were informed that they were to perform at the Township's municipal building.

On December 31, 1997, the Township permitted First Night Wayne to use two of the Township's buses to shuttle patrons between different venues in the Township. It also supplied off-duty police officers to assist in security.

De Leo and Mullins did perform that night in accordance with their contract with First Night Wayne, but when the time came for payment, First Night Wayne lacked the necessary funds. The event had not generated sufficient moneys to permit First Night Wayne to satisfy its various contractual obligations. In March 1998, De Leo and Mullins received a payment of $80.

De Leo and Mullins each began suit for the difference and named First Night Wayne and the Township of Wayne as defendants. The matters were consolidated. First Night Wayne did not answer and a default judgment was entered against it.

The Township defended on the ground that plaintiffs' contract was with First Night Wayne, not the Township, and that the Township had no legal responsibility to satisfy the financial obligations of First Night Wayne, an entity independent of the Township. The Township informed the trial court that efforts had been made to solicit voluntary contributions to meet the debts left by First Night Wayne, but that those efforts had not raised sufficient funds. We were informed at oral argument that the outstanding obligations left by First Night Wayne total approximately $36,000.

The trial court found that there was no privity of contract between plaintiffs and the Township, but that the Township had received a benefit as a result of the event being held. It concluded that since the Township had received a benefit, it would be unjustly enriched if plaintiffs were not paid for their efforts. The trial court relied upon Wanaque Borough Sewerage Authority v. Township of West Milford, 144 N.J. 564 (1996), as authority for its determination. The trial court ruled that there was a contract implied in law and entered judgment against the Township.

While we cannot fault the trial court for its effort to make plaintiffs whole, we are satisfied that we cannot legally sustain the judgment that it entered. Wanaque Borough, upon which the trial court relied, is wholly distinguishable from the present matter.

In that case, the Township of West Milford had, in 1971, consented to the formation of the Wanaque Valley Regional Sewerage Authority and, together with other municipalities, engaged in negotiations over several years concerning the terms and conditions of a proposed service agreement. Id. at 570. In 1976, through its Municipal Utilities Authority, West Milford advised the regional authority that it would not enter a service agreement with the regional authority or use the regional authority's treatment facilities. Id. at 571. The decision of West Milford not to participate in a regional treatment program, together with the subsequent withdrawal of another municipality, made the original regional proposal unfeasible. Ibid. ...


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