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Lyons v. Township of Wayne

A-1832-02T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

MUNICIPALITIES; TORT CLAIMS ACT—Under the Tort Claims Act, absent a later action or failure on the part of the municipality, a suit against a municipality for damage connected with flooding must be filed within two years after the property owner first learns of the flooding condition even if the damage wasn’t caused until much later.

Property owners sued their municipality, the municipality’s engineer, and its Director of Public Works for damage to their property caused by a hurricane. The property owners had experienced flooding problems for a number of years, and regularly complained to the municipality about the problems. The owners requested assistance from the municipality to control the flooding and the municipality explained to the owners that drainage facilities were needed to control the flooding, but that the cost of constructing the facilities would outweigh the benefit. The municipality also contended that the road on which the property was located was a private road and, for that reason, the municipality was not responsible for upgrading it. The owners’ property was later damaged by flooding from a hurricane. They filed a claim against the municipality under the Tort Claims Act on grounds that the municipality was responsible for the damage to their property which was a result of the municipality erecting a berm adjacent to the road above their property and developing the road without curbing or a proper drainage system.

The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the municipality, ruling that: (a) the claim was time barred by the Tort Claims Act; (b) there was no evidence that the municipality created or exacerbated the drainage problem; (c) the municipality was not responsible for upgrading private roads; and (d) decisions regarding municipal expenditures are political decisions which should be free from judicial scrutiny. The property owners appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s determination, ruling that a cause of action under the Tort Claims Act must accrue no more than two years before the filing of the action. The Court noted that a cause of action accrues when the right to institute and maintain a suit first arises. Therefore, it held that the owners’ claim accrued when the owners first had knowledge of the flooding which was when they moved on the property, more than two years before filing their claim. The Court further held that a municipality has no duty to upgrade private roads, that there was no evidence that the municipality was responsible for the water damage to the owners’ property, and that the municipality was solely responsible for decisions regarding municipal expenditures which are political in nature.


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