Amor Realty Co. v. Borough of Carlstadt and The Hackensack Meadowlands Development Comm.

A-6399-95T1 and A-6480-95T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: March 16, 1998

MUNICIPALITIES; DRAINAGE FACILITIES—The Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission does not have responsibility to maintain and repair privately built drainage facilities. A municipality is responsible to the maintenance and repair of such facilities if it is either required to accept their dedication or if it has actually accepted a dedication.

The Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (HMDC), a state administrative agency charged with regulating development along the Hackensack River Basin, determined that a property owner had to repair and maintain drainage facilities that were installed on its land to prevent flooding of low-lying land in the Hackensack Meadowlands. The property owner sought a declaratory judgment that the municipality had accepted, or had a contractual duty to accept dedication of the facilities, and that the owner had no duty to repair or maintain the facilities. The owner also brought suit against HMDC, alleging that it lacked both the power to decide who owned the facilities and the legislative authority to require the owner to make improvements. All parties moved for summary judgment, and the lower court found in favor of the land owner, ruling that either the municipality or HMDC (but not the owner) had the duty to repair and maintain the facilities.

The Appellate Division first examined HMDC regulations, which require developers to install drainage facilities at their own expense, and state that once such facilities are approved by the municipality, they become the property of that municipality. When the Court examined the history of the facilities at issue, it found that the municipality expressly accepted at least a portion of the facilities for dedication. As to the remaining portion and other substantive issues of material fact, the Court found inadequate evidence to support a summary judgment motion. Since a question remained concerning what part of the facilities were expressly dedicated, and who had maintained them since their initial construction almost 20 years earlier, the case was remanded. The Court held that if the drainage ditch and tide gates were constructed according to specifications, the municipality is deemed to have accepted dedication of all the facilities and is responsible for their repair and maintenance. This is because a municipality has a legal obligation, under the Municipal Land Use Law, to accept dedication of a properly constructed drainage facility. However, in this case the municipality’s duty to accept the facilities was conditioned on approval of construction by municipality engineers, and the facts indicated that only the plan for construction was approved. If the facilities were not properly constructed, the municipality is only responsible for maintenance and repairs if it has expressly accepted a dedication.

Since no party argued that the HMDC had maintenance and repair responsibility, and no HMDC regulations indicate that it ever accepts such responsibilities, the Appellate Division overturned the lower court’s holding that the HMDC might be responsible for the facilities.