On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, General Equity, Cumberland County, C-6-02.
Before Judges King, Lisa and S. L. Reisner.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lisa, J.A.D.
Defendant, City of Vineland (City), appeals from a final order of the Chancery Division granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, Garden State Land Company (Garden State) and denying the City's cross-motion for summary judgment. Garden State initiated this action to quiet title to a parcel of real estate in Vineland, upon which it had foreclosed two tax title liens. Prior to commencement of the foreclosure action, the City caused to be demolished the structures on the property, which the City determined were unfit for human habitation, occupancy or use. After Garden State completed its foreclosure action, the City imposed a tax lien against the property for its demolition cost of $44,581.42. The final judgment in Garden State's foreclosure action recited an amount due of $20,287.47.
Because Garden State was not served with notice in the demolition proceeding, as required by statute, it contended in the quiet title action that the City's tax lien for the demolition cost was defective and could not properly constitute an encumbrance against its title. Judge Rafferty agreed and entered judgment in Garden State's favor. The judge fashioned an equitable remedy, by which the City was given two choices:
(1) If the City wished to preserve its demolition lien, it would be required, within sixty days, to reimburse Garden State for the amount of the underlying liens which were foreclosed by Garden State, together with statutory interest on the liens and on any subsequent taxes paid by Garden State. The City would also be required to pay Garden State taxed costs. As a variation of this alternative, if the City wished to obtain title to the property, it would be further required to reimburse Garden State for its actual out-of-pocket expenses to complete the foreclosure action, in exchange for which Garden State would convey title by deed to the City. (2) If the City did not reimburse Garden State within sixty days, the City's demolition lien was to be declared invalid, and the City ordered to discharge it.
The judge entered an order staying the final judgment, with certain conditions agreed to by the parties, pending appeal. The City argues on appeal:
THE TRIAL COURT'S DETERMINATION THAT TAX LIEN HOLDER IS A"PARTY IN INTEREST" AS A PERSON ENTITLED TO NOTICE OF HEARING BEFORE THE HEALTH OFFICER PURSUANT TO N.J.S.A. 40:48-2.5 IS AN ERROR. A"PARTY IN INTEREST" IS A PARTY WITH LEGAL INTEREST, NOT EQUITABLE INTEREST.
A MUNICIPALITY HAS THE DUTY AND POWER TO DEMOLISH STRUCTURES WHICH ARE DANGEROUS TO HUMAN LIFE OR PUBLIC WELFARE PURSUANT TO N.J.S.A. 40:48-1.1 AND TO PLACE A LIEN TO RECOVER COSTS OF DEMOLITION AS WELL AS SUCH AN ACTION AT LAW AGAINST THE OWNER FOR THE DEBT. THERE IS NO STATUTORY REQUEST (sic) OF NOTICE TO PARTIES IN INTEREST UNDER N.J.S.A. 40:48-1.1.
THE DEMOLITION OF DILAPIDATED STRUCTURES ON THE PROPERTY BY THE CITY OF VINELAND WITH KNOWLEDGE BY THE PLAINTIFF AMOUNTS TO UNJUST ENRICHMENT AND EQUITY REQUIRES REIMBURSEMENT TO CITY OF ...