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State of New Jersey v. Goldmeier (N.J.) Ltd.

A-1210-02T5, (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

EMINENT DOMAIN; ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION—A settlement between a property owner and a condemning authority that reserves the right of the condemning authority to bring a separate action for pollution on the land will be honored.

The State brought an action to acquire certain properties by eminent domain. Its complaint “alleged that there was environmental contamination on the properties and sought to preserve [the State’s] right to recover the cost of cleanup and remediation.” The parties settled the case and entered into a consent judgment, specifically providing that the property was to be valued “as if remediated with no reference being made to environmental contamination on the subject property.” The settlement also preserved the State’s right to bring a “separate cost recovery action” for “unresolved contamination issues.” Condemnation commissioners valued the property but the property owner appealed. A lengthy period of negotiations resulted in a settlement concerning valuation of the properties. However, “the parties were unable to reach agreement concerning [the State’s] attempted reservation of the right to pursue an environmental cleanup action at some future date, which was the issue the parties had preserved for future determination” in their earlier settlement. Accordingly, “they agreed to submit the appropriateness of inclusion of such a reservation of rights for resolution by the trial court on a motion to settle the form of the judgment.” The lower court opined “that the inclusion of the disputed paragraph in the final judgment was appropriate.” The Appellate Division affirmed, emphasizing that the earlier settlement resulted in an agreement both as “to the method and valuation” as well as to the “right to bring a ‘separate recovery action’ for ‘unresolved contamination issues.’” Therefore, the Appellate Division found that this was not a case as to what method of valuation should be used if different methods of valuation might impact on the reservation of rights to bring a separate action for the cost of remediation. Here, the valuation was made with the understanding that there would be a reservation of rights in favor of the State.

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