On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is Reported at 377 N.J. Super. 209 (2005).
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
This appeal requires the Court to address the question whether an appeal from the decision of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (Meadowlands Commission) lies directly in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court or in an action in lieu of prerogative writs in the Law Division.
The Meadowlands Commission was created as a subdivision of the State to reclaim, plan, develop and redevelop the area commonly known as the meadowlands in the lower Hackensack river basin. To achieve this, the Legislature vested the Meadowlands Commission with broad powers. Among them, the Meadowlands Commission is empowered to enter into contracts with a redeveloper to undertake any development or project or improvement as it finds necessary. N.J.S.A. 13:17-6(j). It is against the backdrop of this broad delegation of state power that this appeal must be assessed.
Pursuing the redevelopment of six landfills in the District, the Meadowlands Commission and intervenor-respondent, EnCap Golf Holdings, LLC (EnCap) entered into a landfill closure and redevelopment agreement in February 2001, providing for a phased development. This development was to include the capping of landfills, construction of golf course facilities and related amenities, construction of residential timeshare units, and additional projects as proposed by EnCap. Six months later, the Meadowlands Commission amended the redevelopment plan to include an office complex.
Appellants-respondents, Infinity Broadcasting Corp. (Infinity) and Inner City Broadcasting Corp. (Inner City), operate AM radio stations located within the District but outside the area covered by the EnCap redevelopment plan. Infinity and Inner City submitted to the Meadowlands Commission an expert report objecting to the amendments to the EnCap plan and claiming the height of several of the proposed structures would have significant adverse impact on their radio signals. Infinity and Inner City suggested that shorter (no higher than four stories) and relocated structures would alleviate their concerns.
The Meadowlands Commission staff met with EnCap, Infinity, and Inner City and sought to foster cooperation among them. The Meadowlands Commission adopted a resolution directing EnCap to work with Infinity and Inner City so as to avoid signal interference to the greatest extent possible. The Meadowlands Commission ultimately adopted EnCap's second set of amendments, which included non-residential structures that would not exceed twenty-five stories. Infinity and Inner City objected, again seeking to limit the height of any structure to four stories. They filed a notice of appeal from the Meadowlands Commission's adoption of the second set of amendments with the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
The Appellate Division rejected Infinity's and Inner City's challenges to the sufficiency of the procedures afforded them before the Meadowlands Commission. In respect of Infinity's and Inner City's claims that the redevelopment would implicate land use and taking issues, the Appellate Division held that those issues could not be considered on the record before it. The Appellate Division explained that because the Meadowlands Commission's land use authority is exercised on a local basis, its actions in that regard must be challenged in a proceeding in lieu of prerogative writs filed in the Law Division.
The Meadowlands Commission filed a petition for certification requesting review of the scope of appellate jurisdiction. According to Infinity and Inner City, the Meadowlands Commission's land use decisions are cognizable in the Law Division because the Meadowlands Commission has a limited jurisdiction and, in this instance, is exercising an inherently local function. In support of this argument, Infinity and Inner City point to the Meadowlands Commission's land-use agency functions and the fact that condemnation actions are heard in the Law Division. They also urge that the Appellate Division is ill-suited for the fact-finding that occurs in all other challenges to land use decisions. The Meadowlands Commission asserts that, as a state agency, its decisions are reviewable on direct appeal to the Appellate Division. According to the Commission, it is the identity of the governmental actor involved, and not the nature of the action taken, that governs whether a direct appeal lies to the Appellate Division.
The Supreme Court granted the Meadowlands Commission's petition for certification.
HELD: With the exception of actions in condemnation or inverse condemnation, Meadowlands Commission actions are reviewable as of right in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.
1. Unquestionably, the Meadowlands Commission is a state agency. Moreover, the Commission's decision to enter into the EnCap agreement and its later amendments constitutes final agency action because the resolutions contained adequate factual and legal conclusions and gave unmistakable notice of their finality. Rule 2:2-3(a)(2) provides for appeals to the Appellate Division as of right from such agency actions. (pp. 11-13)
2. Infinity and Inner City argue, however, that because the Meadowlands Commission exercised an inherent local function here involving the intersection between land use approvals and development agreements, the "single locality" exception applies. They also argue that the Commission's actions lack an agency record that is amenable to appellate review. Under the "single locality" exception, proceedings relating to an administrative body with authority confined to a single locality, such as a county, should be brought in the Law Division even though the body may be classified for most purposes as an agency of the State. Consonant with the State Constitution's grant of appellate jurisdiction, the Court reaffirms the appeals route provided in Rule 2:2-3(a)(2), and rejects the "single locality" exception to that Rule. To the extent that the Appellate Division holds that appellate review of the Meadowland's Commission's actions lie in that court, the judgment is affirmed. The Court rejects the panel's reasoning and conclusion that because the Commission's land use authority is exercised on a local basis, its actions in that regard must be challenged in the Law Division. (pp. 14-18)
3. The Court next addresses those instances where, after an appeal from a state agency action has been lodged in the Appellate division, a record must be developed as a prerequisite to meaningful appellate review. It has long been recognized that condemnation actions and, by extension, inverse condemnation actions resulting from state administrative action are properly cognizable in the Law Division. This is so because condemnation and inverse condemnation actions, by their very nature, require particularized fact finding and determinations that are best resolved by the Law Division. Infinity and Inner City contend that because this case involves land use issues, it presents one of those unique instances where a hearing before the Law Division is necessary in order to develop a record that would allow meaningful appellate review. The Court disagrees. The Appellate Division held, and the Court concurs, that the Commission fulfilled its responsibilities by holding public hearings, providing information about the amendments to Infinity and Inner City, and by receiving their comments and objections. In that context, no convincing showing has been made for the need for additional fact-finding, and the record before the Meadowlands Commission is sufficient to permit meaningful appellate review. (pp. 18-20)
The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED in part and REVERSED in part. The Court exercises original jurisdiction and enters judgment in favor of the Meadowlands Commission.
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES LONG, ZAZZALI, ALBIN, and WALLACE join in JUSTICE RIVERA-SOTO's opinion. JUSTICE LaVECCHIA did not participate.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rivera-soto
This appeal requires that we address the question whether an appeal from a decision of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (Meadowlands Commission)*fn1 lies directly in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court or in an action in lieu of prerogative writs in the Law Division of the Superior Court. Distinguishing actions challenging the Meadowlands Commission's adoption of amendments to its landfill closure and redevelopment agreements from actions challenging the land use and takings aspects of those governmental actions, the Appellate Division held that an appeal from the former lies with the Appellate Division, but review of the latter must be had in the form of an action in lieu of prerogative writs in the trial court.
We hold that, with the specific exception of actions in condemnation or inverse condemnation, venue for which lie in the Law Division of the Superior Court, the Meadowlands Commission's actions are state agency actions reviewable as of right in the Appellate Division. We further hold that the Appellate Division nevertheless retains the discretion, in an appropriate case, to retain jurisdiction in an appeal from the action of a state agency, but to refer the ...