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Lacey Mun. Utils. Auth. v. New Jersey Dep't of Envtl. Protection

Citation: 30 ELR 20175
No. No. A-54-98, 738 A.2d 955/(N.J., 11/05/1999)

The court holds that a municipal water utility, which incurred costs through extension of its waterlines into areas with contaminated private wells, may measure the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act's one-year statute of limitations for filing compensation claims against the Act's spill fund from the date it committed itself to the waterline extension. The Act requires claims against the fund to be filed within one year of discovery of damage, but the term discovery of damage was not defined for public entities until after the utility filed its claim. The court first holds that the one-year statute of limitations for public entities commences when a government entity authorizes adoption of an ordinance, resolution, or other binding commitment to extend its waterlines due to contamination. At such a point, the government entity has discovered that it will sustain damage and knows that a claim against the fund will have to be made. The court then holds that principles of fairness require the court to allow the utility to proceed with its claim against the fund. Although the utility filed its claim within one year of commitment to the waterline extension, such a standard did not exist when the utility filed its claims and, therefore, the timeliness of the utility's claim must be based on the law and circumstances existing when the utility filed the claim. However, the law at the timeof filing was uncertain. In the context of the case, allowing the utility to present a claim does no more than recognize a simple justice in the situation.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (8 pp., ELR Order No. L-117).

Counsel for Appellant
Mark D. Oshinskie, Deputy Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
R.J.H. Justice Complex
25 Market St., CN-080, Trenton NJ 08625
(609) 292-4925

Counsel for Respondent
Jerry J. Dasti
Dasti, Murphy & Wellerson
620 Lacey Rd., Forked River NJ 08731
(732) 295-3000