A recent Appellate Court decision ruled municipal courts have jurisdiction pursuant to N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11u(d) to impose civil penalties under the Spill Act in a summary proceeding conducted pursuant to the Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999, N.J.S.A. 2A:58-10 to -12.
A recent case arose when an employee of the DEP filed a complaint against a corporation in the Milltown Municipal Court, using a “Special Form of Complaint and Summons” prescribed by the Administrative Director of the Courts.
When this matter came before the Milltown Municipal Court, the corporation moved to dismiss the summons for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It argued that municipal courts do not have the authority to adjudicate the merits of an enforcement action brought by the DEP involving alleged violations of the Spill Act.
The municipal court dismissed the DEP complaint. The DEP appealed the municipal court’s decision.
The Appellate Court construed the language in N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11u(d) to authorize the DEP with a choice to enforce the Spill Act monetary penalties in a summary proceeding in either the Superior Court or in the municipal court that has territorial jurisdiction. It therefore reversed the trial court decision.
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By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County, NJ Real Estate Attorney