No. A-3318-15T3

Aug. 23, 2017 (Date Decided)

Judge Rothstadt

FOR APPELLANT: Antonio J. Casas (Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf, LLP, attonreys; Samuel G. Destito, of counsel and on the briefs; Mr. Casas and Sandy L. Galacio Jr., on the briefs).

FOR RESPONDENTS: Michael H. Glovin (William J. Pascrell III, Passaic County Counsel, attorney; Mr. Globin, of counsel and on the brief); Marvin J. Brauth (Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, PA, attorneys; Mr. Brauth, of counsel and on the brief).

Plaintiff appealed from the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief for an order permitting plaintiff to proceed with development of a roadway from its campus to a public road. Plaintiff had previously spent six years consulting with defendants to satisfy most of their concerns about the roadway. Plaintiff applied to defendant county to install traffic controls at the proposed intersection of the roadway and public road, arguing that it was exempt under Rutgers v. Piluso, 60 N.J. 142, from needing to seek approval from the town’s land use board.

When the county failed to respond, plaintiff instituted the present action, seeking a declaration that the county’s refusal to issue the permit was contrary to law, and injunctive relief directing the issuance of the permit so plaintiff could construct its roadway. Although the trial court concluded that defendants could not block the permit simply because it would generate more traffic, it denied plaintiff relief on the basis that it had not complied with its obligations under Rutgers to obtain an updated traffic study. Even after plaintiff obtained the updated study, defendants refused to issue a permit, believing plaintiff’s design continued to fail to meet highway design standards. Plaintiff returned to the trial court, which dismissed plaintiff’s complaint after finding that it had an insufficient record as plaintiff had not reappeared before the county or town planning boards.

On appeal from the dismissal of its complaint, plaintiff argued that the trial court abused its discretion by not determining whether plaintiff met its obligation under Rutgers “to act reasonably and consult with the county and city” and by adding the requirement that plaintiff return to the town planning board for development of a record. The court agreed and reversed the trial court. ruling that the trial court mistakenly required the matter to be heard by municipal and county planning boards for development of a record. Instead, the court held that, as a state university, plaintiff was not required to appeal before local land use boards, but instead was simply obligated to consult with local authorities to take their safety concerns into consideration. The court held that the question of whether an agency complied with its consultation obligation was one for the courts to resolve.