July 10, 2012
EDWARD KOBBLE AND MARYANN KOBBLE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
DELAWARE RIVER JOINT TOLL BRIDGE COMMISSION AND TOWN OF PHILLIPSBURG, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 13, 2012
Before Judges Espinosa and Kennedy.
Plaintiffs appeal from a final agency decision of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) which prohibited vehicles from making left turns from the south side of Union Square in the Town of Phillipsburg. Plaintiffs contend the DRJTBC decision is arbitrary and capricious and violates plaintiffs' "rights to procedural due process." We disagree and affirm.
Union Square is a road running east and west between the Northampton Street Free Bridge over the Delaware River and South Main Street in Phillipsburg. Union Square is owned and controlled by the DRJTBC, a bi-state agency of New Jersey and Pennsylvania created in 1934 to operate and maintain bridge crossings between the states. DRJTBC's jurisdiction extends to the immediate approaches to such bridges.
Plaintiffs own a 2.66 acre tract on the south side of Union Square, containing a gas station, a restaurant, a boat launch site and a seasonal ice cream stand. Plaintiffs acquired the property in 1976, and in 1992 received site plan approval from the Phillipsburg Planning Board to build the structure for the restaurant and a related shop. Prior to obtaining such approval, plaintiffs submitted to the board a "traffic impact study."
On January 14, 2009, the Mayor of Phillipsburg wrote to the DRJTBC to advise of a "serious traffic hazard that has been created by vehicles making left turn[s] exiting [the] gas station in Union Square." The letter requested the DRJTBC to "take action prohibiting left turns at this location."
The DRJTBC responded to the Mayor's letter and received a report from its Assistant Chief Engineer stating that vehicles turning left from plaintiffs' property toward the Free Bridge had to cross two lanes of eastbound traffic and a double yellow line with "limited sight distance" of such traffic. He concluded that "[f]rom an engineering perspective" the prohibition of left turns from the location was justified.
Also, the DRJTBC Deputy Executive Director of Operations reported that an accident history check with the New Jersey State Police revealed seventeen motor vehicle accidents occurred in or near the location between January 2007 and August 2009. He advised that counsel to the commission could draft an appropriate resolution for consideration at the September meeting.
At its meeting on September 29, 2009, the DRJTBC adopted a resolution prohibiting left turns from the southerly side of Union Square, based upon its consideration of the accident history and the engineering report. The prohibition became effective on April 1, 2010.
Plaintiff Edward Kobble and plaintiffs' counsel appeared at the DRJTBC meeting on April 26, 2010, to ask for reconsideration of the earlier resolution, challenging the actual number of accidents that could be ascribed to left turns from their property. The DRJTBC declined to reconsider the prohibition and this appeal followed.
Plaintiffs claim the decision of the DRJTBC is arbitrary and capricious because "[t]here is nothing in the . . . record to support its decision . . . from a safety standpoint." In making this claim, plaintiffs fail to take note of the report of the commission's Assistant Chief Engineer recommending the prohibition, and simply downplay the significance of the accident history. Plaintiffs' argument is unpersuasive.
The scope of review of an administrative agency's final determination is limited. In re Carter, 191 N.J. 474, 482 (2007) (citing Aqua Beach Condo. Ass'n v. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs, 186 N.J. 5, 15-16 (2006)). We accord an agency's exercise of its statutorily delegated responsibilities a strong presumption of reasonableness. City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council, 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S. Ct. 400, 66 L. Ed. 2d 245 (1980). The burden of showing the agency's action was arbitrary, unreasonable, or capricious rests upon the appellant. See Barone v. Dep't of Human Servs., Div. of Med. Assistance & Health Servs., 210 N.J. Super. 276, 285 (App. Div. 1986), aff'd, 107 N.J. 355 (1987).
The reviewing court "should not disturb an administrative agency's determinations or findings unless there is a clear showing that (1) the agency did not follow the law; (2) the decision was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable; or (3) the decision was not supported by substantial evidence." In re Application of Virtua-West Jersey Hosp. Voorhees for a Certificate of Need, 194 N.J. 413, 422 (2008) (citations omitted); see also Circus Liquors, Inc. v. Governing Body of Middletown Twp., 199 N.J. 1, 9-10 (2009) (citations omitted).
The court "may not vacate an agency determination because of doubts as to its wisdom or because the record may support more than one result," but is "obliged to give due deference to the view of those charged with the responsibility of implementing legislative programs." In re N.J. Pinelands Comm'n Resolution PC4-00-89, 356 N.J. Super. 363, 372 (App. Div.) (citing Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997)), certif. denied, 176 N.J. 281 (2003).
Guided by these principles, we find nothing in the record to suggest that the DRJTBC acted arbitrarily, unreasonably or capriciously or that its determination was not supported by evidence in the record. As noted, the commission requested and received a report on the issue from its engineer, as well as an accident history for the site, before adopting the resolution at a public meeting. Accordingly, we reject plaintiffs' claim that the determination of the DRJTBC was substantively flawed.
Finally, we find that plaintiffs' assertion that the action of the DRJTBC violated their "rights to procedural due process" is without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We add only that the commission acted at a public hearing after the matter had been placed on its publicly available agenda. Beyond this, plaintiffs and their counsel were invited to appear before the DRJTBC, and did appear, to present their arguments against the left turn prohibition.
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