NJDOT Victory Reversed On Appeal

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by Joseph Grather / New Jersey Condemnation Law 

Earlier this week, the Appellate Division issued an opinion reversing a Law Division decision that held a property owner was barred from claiming that NJDOT failed to specifically perform as promised in a written settlement agreement. State, Commissioner of Transportation v. Delucca (Docket No. A-3129-10T1).  A copy of the opinion may be found here.

The case involved a partial taking of the Delucca’s property in Lindenwold.  Initially, the Deluccas objected to the taking, but that objection was resolved by way of settlement.

According to the Appellate Division, the settlement consisted of three written documents.  The first was executed by the parties on January 11, 2005 outlining a deal whereby DOT would perform post-taking remedial construction at the subject property and the property owner would withdraw its objections and grant DOT an easement to perform the work.

The second document evidencing the settlement was a Consent Order for Judgment Appointing Commissioners that issued on March 18, 2005, which authorized the taking and confirmed that the property owner would receive $3,000 as just compensation for the taking.  Paragraph 6 of the consent order contained form language that it “resolved all issues raised in the complaint or claimed by defendant.”

Thereafter, as presaged by the first document, a right of entry agreement was executed on December 29, 2005, which allowed DOT to enter the property to perform “any work associated with the attached plan.” Slip op. at 5.  The work was completed in 2006.

The Deluccas were not satisfied with DOT’s workmanship, and ultimately filed a motion to enforce litigant’s rights.  The Law Division denied the motion, ruling that paragraph 6 quoted above barred the claim.

The Appellate Division reversed on the basis that the parties’ settlement agreement was set forth in the three documents outlined above, and the lower court committed legal error by focusing solely on the judgment’s preclusionary language.  The court’s holding was supported by the basis legal proposition that where “parties have made several written agreements in connection with one subject or transaction, they are properly read as one with separate components that explain and amplify one another.” Slip op. at 8.

Hopefully, the construction deficiencies have already been corrected, and the property owners may now continue to enjoy their property without further government intrusion.

Originally published by New Jersey Condemnation Law; republished with permission

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