On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Docket No. L-1625-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 15, 2009
Before Judges Carchman and Lihotz.
Plaintiff Parkside Cab Corp. appeals from an order of the Law Division denying its motion for leave to file a late notice of claim, N.J.S.A. 59:8-9, pursuant to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 to -12-3. The claim arose out of a motor vehicle accident occurring on June 8, 2008, wherein defendant Biddle Medley was operating a vehicle owned by defendant the New Jersey Department of Treasury (the State), which collided with a vehicle owned by plaintiff. The ensuing damages for repair to plaintiff's 2008 Ford Crown Victoria vehicle was alleged to be $39,716.79. We affirm.
The basic facts are not in significant dispute. Police were called to the scene and information exchanged. As recorded in the New Jersey State Police Report, the State vehicle was registered in the name of the "Department of Treasury" with a post office box address in Trenton. The day following the accident, Rene Alexis, the driver of plaintiff's vehicle, reported the accident information to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles. No personal injuries were involved, and no further action was taken until plaintiff filed the motion for leave to file a late notice of claim. In its moving papers, plaintiff asserted that it assumed that the accident had involved the United States Department of Treasury rather than the State. Other than a reference to the fact that the United States maintains an office of the Department of Treasury in Trenton, there is no further indicia of any investigative steps to ascertain defendant's true identity.
The Act, which is designed to afford prompt notice of a claim and allow for investigation and preparation of a defense, Moon v. Warren Haven Nursing Home, 182 N.J. 507, 514 (2005), requires that plaintiff file a notice of claim within 90 days of the date the cause of action accrued. N.J.S.A. 59:8-8. Leave may be granted to allow the filing of a late notice where there has been a showing of "extraordinary circumstances" constituting the basis for the late filing. N.J.S.A. 59:8-9. What constitutes "extraordinary circumstances" will be determined on a case-by-case basis. R.L. v. State-Operated School District, 387 N.J. Super. 331, 340 (App. Div. 2006). On a showing of extraordinary circumstances, we will then address the issue of whether a public entity has been substantially prejudiced by any delay.
We conclude that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances as a basis for the delay. We appreciate that there is a modicum of confusion in distinguishing between the federal and state Treasury Departments. However, other than the assumption made by plaintiff that the agency involved was federal, the record is devoid of any attempt to ascertain the owner of the vehicle other than reliance on the assumption that the federal government had a treasury facility in Trenton*fn1 . Even the most cursory of further inquiry would have revealed that the vehicle, registered in New Jersey and operating with New Jersey license plates, was a state-owned rather than federally-owned and operated vehicle. See Blank v. City of Elizabeth, 162 N.J. 150, 151 (1999)(denying relief and noting that plaintiff's failure to investigate does not warrant further inquiry into establishing extraordinary circumstances under N.J.S.A. 59:8-9).
We reject plaintiff's reliance on Ventola v. New Jersey Veteran's Memorial Home, 164 N.J. 74 (2000). Ventola addressed unique issues related to public entity health-care providers and confusion as to whether a facility was operated by the state or federal government. Unlike here, the plaintiff in Ventola became aware that the facility was operated by the State when the United States Department of Veteran's Affairs, upon receiving a timely-filed notice under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C.A. §1346, notified plaintiff that the facility was operated by the State rather than the federal government. See also Leidy v. County of Ocean, 398 N.J. Super. 449 (App. Div. 2008) (denying relief under N.J.S.A. 59:8-9).
Although our conclusion that there was no showing of extraordinary circumstances obviates the need to show substantial prejudice, we do observe that this was a property damage claim wherein the vehicle was repaired without an opportunity for the State to view the vehicle prior to repair; moreover, nothing appears in the record addressing the impact of the collateral source rule that applies in property damage claims under the Act. N.J.S.A. 59:9-2(e).
We are satisfied that the judge did not abuse her discretion in denying plaintiff's motion,*fn2 Lamb v. Global Landfill Reclaiming, 111 N.J. 134, 136 (1988), and find no basis for our intervention.