County of Monmouth v. Baldacchino

A-4613-96T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: February 20, 1998

CERTIFICATES OF OCCUPANCY—A single letter from the condemning authority to a property owner stating a one-price offer and a cutoff date for acceptance satisfies the statutory requirement for bona fide negotiations prior to filing of a condemnation complaint.

A county made various offers by mail to purchase a parcel of land. After receiving no response from the landowner, the county began formal condemnation proceedings. The landowner attempted to have the condemnation complaint dismissed on the basis that the county failed to meet the requirements of the Eminent Domain Act, thereby rendering the proceedings void. Specifically, the landowner claimed the county’s appraisal, offer, and complaint failed to take into account the value of a dominant beach front access easement it had. The owner also claimed the county’s “take it or leave it” position did not satisfy the bona fide negotiations requirement of the Act. The county claimed the easement was useless because the county now owned both the easement and the land through which it ran. The lower court refused to dismiss the condemnation complaint and the landowner appealed.

The Appellate Division found that the county did account for the easement in the negotiation process and found it to be worthless. While this assessment may have been wrong, it did not mean that the county had failed to comply with proper condemnation procedure. Rather, it was simply the county’s opinion of value and was subject to dispute by the landowner during the condemnation hearing. The Court then held that the letters from the county containing one-price offers were in compliance with the Act. Even though the letters gave cutoff dates for their offers, they always indicated the county’s desire to negotiate and even urged the owner to get its own appraisal.