Kusznikow v. Township Council of the Township of Stafford

330 N.J. Super. 357, 749 A.2d 888 (App. Div. 2000)
  • Opinion Date: April 26, 2000

UTILITIES—A Municipal Utilities Authority has the power to require homeowners to connect to a public water line and to disconnect private wells from the system.

The Appellate Division upheld a judgment of the Law Division for reasons stated in the lower court’s opinion. A municipality’s Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) installed a water system. Certain homeowners refused to connect to the water system, but after their case reached the Appellate Division, it was ordered that they be required to connect to the water system. After the homeowners connected to the MUA water line in the street, the MUA required the homeowners to connect their homes to the lateral on their property and prevent their well water from entering the house plumbing. The MUA conceded that the homeowners remained free to use their well water for any other purpose, provided that it was not interconnected with the MUA system. This was to prevent possible contamination of the water supply, even though there was no evidence of pollution in the wells involved in this case. Although there was no precedent in New Jersey, there was some precedent in federal law. In fact, one case involved a neighboring community with an ordinance very similar in scope to the one before the Court. There, in reviewing an ordinance provision requiring a connection to a municipal water system, the court found “that general economic and social welfare legislation may be struck down only if it fails to meet a minimum rationality standard.” The federal court held in the case involving the neighboring municipality that the protection of health, safety, and general welfare was plainly in the public interest and that the Legislature “may rationally determine that a public water supply is the simplest and safest solution for its citizenry, even without proof of danger to each and every affected person.” The homeowners argued that the real reason for the mandatory connection requirement was to provide revenue to the MUA. The MUA did not deny that revenue from usage was an important element of its rating structure and that if homeowners were free to avoid the basic usage charge, its rates to those who connect might increase. The Court recognized that monetary considerations are legitimate and rational elements related to the installation of a utility system. Therefore, it was not improper for the MUA to require connection even if it were to benefit financially. As to the argument that denying the homeowners the right to use their well constitutes a taking, the Court held that there was no indication that the homeowners’ wells constituted all (or, indeed, any) of the economic value of their land. Consequently, the homeowners could not show that the taking, if any, approached the total destruction of value required before a court would find a taking. Finally, the homeowners argued that they were being forced into a contract in violation of provisions in the federal and state constitution prohibiting laws impairing the obligation of contracts. Nonetheless, the Court held that a homeowner may be required to obtain still pay for water service from a municipal authority just as a homeowner might be required to adhere to other laws that, one way or another, cost money. “Living in a civilized society translates to the surrender of a certain amount of individual freedom for the common good.”