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Asbury Park Board of Education v. City of Asbury Park

A-1076-04T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

CONDEMNATION—A condemning authority may take the property of another governmental body, even when that property is already devoted to a public use, if authority to do so has been expressly given by the legislature or must reasonably be implied by the terms of legislation.

A municipality adopted an ordinance pursuant to an amended waterfront redevelopment plan. A board of education and a corporation owned property within the area planned for redevelopment. The board’s property was a one-story structure used as its central administration headquarters. No classes were held there and no students used the building. The corporation’s building was a two-story commercial office building used to conduct a janitorial business.

The board and the corporation each filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs challenging the municipality ordinances adopted by the municipality authorizing the acquisition, by eminent domain, of property owned by the two of them, respectively. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the municipality. The board and the corporation appealed. Because the two subject properties were in such close proximity to each other, the corporation conceded that the success of its challenge was dependent upon the success of the board’s; that is, if the board did not succeed, the corporation could not succeed.

On appeal, the Appellate Division consolidated the two actions to consider several issues. First, it needed to consider whether the municiplaity, by eminent domain, could take property owned by another public entity already devoted to a public use. Second, the Court needed to consider whether the board could be deemed to be an alter ego of the State and whether the board’s status as a “special needs” district required joinder of the State Department of Education. Lastly, the Court needed to consider whether the procedures utilized by the lower court unfairly prejudiced the board. The corporation raised the same issues for review.

Turning to the first issue involving prior public use, the Appellate Division explained that the power of eminent domain may not be exercised to take property devoted to an existing public use unless the authority to do so has been expressly given by the legislature or must necessarily be implied. In this case, the Court found two reasons why the prior public use doctrine would not obstruct the municipality’s acquisition of both properties. First, the municipality had adopted its amended waterfront redevelopment plan pursuant to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. Furthermore, the Eminent Domain Act specifically recognizes that public property devoted to a public use may be taken through eminent domain.

The Court also explained that lands devoted to public use may be taken if the taker’s use is necessary to accomplish a public purpose, and that purpose is paramount, either by express language of a statute or by necessary implication. Thus, the prior public use doctrine requires a balancing of the competing public interests served by permitting or precluding the exercise of the power of eminent domain.

Applying these principles, the Court found that the greater public interest was served by permitting the municipality to proceed with its exercise of eminent domain against the two properties. Among the factors that supported its conclusion, the Court found it compelling that only administrative functions were being performed at the board’s property, that no actual instruction was conducted there, and that the location of the two properties were essential to the success of the municipality’s redevelopment plan.

Turning to the second issue, the Court found that the board was not an alter ego of the State. It explained that a board of education is a local corporate body and a separate political entity. Furthermore, the Court found that this particular board’s status as a “special needs” district were “fundamentally immaterial.”

Lastly, the Appellate Division considered the claim that the procedures adopted by the lower court were unfair. Although the Appellate Division found the procedures utilized by the lower court “facially troubling,” the Court found that the lower court’s actions did not provide a basis for further proceedings. The Court asked the board what facts it would seek to establish through discovery that might have led to a different result. After reviewing the record, the Court found that the information listed by the board was already before the lower court.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division affirmed the judgment of the lower court.


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