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New Jersey Appellate Division Affirms Municipal Court Jurisdiction to Enforce Spill Act Penalties

On November 13, 2019, the Appellate Division held that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) can bring a penalty enforcement action under the Spill Compensation and Control Act (the “Spill Act”), N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11 et seq., in either the Superior Court or the municipal court with territorial jurisdiction. State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Alsol Corporation, No. A-3546-17T1, — A.3d – (N.J. Super. App. Div. Div. Nov. 13, 2019).

In this case, DEP filed a summons in municipal court against Alsol Corporation (“Alsol”) alleging that Alsol failed to remediate certain property in accordance with DEP regulations, and sought to impose penalties against Alsol under the Spill Act. Alsol successfully moved to dismiss DEP’s summons for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In dismissing the summons, the municipal court concluded that its jurisdiction to enforce civil penalties under the Spill Act was limited to “where a finding of liability ha[d] already been adjudicated.” DEP appealed to the Law Division, which reversed the municipal court’s decision. Alsol then appealed to the Appellate Division.

Following a de novo review, the Appellate Division affirmed and held that municipal courts have jurisdiction to impose civil penalties in a summary proceeding under the Spill Act. The Spill Act provides that any person who violates the Act or a court order issued under the Act, or fails to pay a civil administrative penalty will “be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $50,000.00 per day for each violation,” and such penalties “may be recovered with costs in a summary proceeding pursuant to the [Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999] in the Superior Court or a municipal court.” N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11u(d). The Appellate Division found that “a plain reading” of the Spill Act authorizes DEP to bring a penalty enforcement action in municipal court. In its reasoning, the Appellate Division cited to a prior decision in which it addressed an analogous issue under the Solid Waste Management Act, and also noted that the Supreme Court endorsed such an approach in Rule 7:2-1(h) “by making this type of summary action cognizable in the municipal courts using the Special Summons . . . DEP used” in this case.

Potentially responsible parties under the Spill Act should be aware that DEP may seek to impose and enforce penalties under the Spill Act in municipal court or Superior Court, and should treat a municipal court summons with the same urgency as a Superior Court complaint.

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About this Author

Michael J. Gross, Giordano Law Firm, Environmental Attorney
Shareholder/Managing Partner

Mike, chair of the Environmental Law Practice Area, handles all aspects of New Jersey and federal environmental law, including permitting and litigation, CAFRA, sewage disposal and water supply, wetlands, riparian (tidelands) law, solid waste, flood hazard areas, siting of energy and other industrial facilities, site remediation, Pinelands, Highlands, cultural resources, stormwater, wastewater planning, water and air pollution. He also appears before planning and zoning boards and has handled complex construction litigation matters.

Mike is...

Paul H. Schneider, Giordano Law Firm, Litigation Attorney

Paul, Chair of the Environmental & Land Use Litigation Practice Area, focuses his practice in environmental, redevelopment, land use, regulatory, real estate and affordable housing law, and litigation. He also handles a wide variety of redevelopment matters as well as corporate and commercial litigation. In addition to handling major litigation before both the state and federal courts and the Office of Administrative Law, he has extensive experience before the New Jersey Supreme Court and the Appellate Division.

Paul represents real estate developers and other businesses in all types of environmental and land use matters, including permitting and compliance in the areas of water, wetlands, waste, and air; brownfields redevelopment; site remediation; and transactional. He also represents landowners in cost recovery actions, as well as in enforcement actions brought by government or environmental groups.

Steven M. Dalton, Giordano Law Firm, Attorney, Environmental - Land Use, Environmental - Site Remediation, Land Use & Development Law ,Cannabis Law, Real Estate, Renewable Energy, Environmental Law, Land Use Law, Litigation

Steve's primary practice is in Environmental Law. He is able to utilize his background in environmental sciences to anticipate, understand and address the issues that his clients confront. Steve assists business and individual clients in state and federal environmental permitting, regulatory compliance, solid and hazardous waste remediation and redevelopment of contaminated sites, underground storage tank compliance, water and sewer rights and approvals, Tideland rights and approvals, and municipal land use matters.  Steve also assists clients with environmental aspects of real estate...

Marc D. Policastro Shareholder Giordano Law Firm, Business Attorney

Marc, Chair of the Environmental Department, is a transactional, business attorney, who focuses his practice in development, redevelopment, environmental compliance cases, corporate transactional matters, land use, zoning and business counseling. Admitted to practice in New Jersey and New York, he has represented numerous national developers, manufacturers, cogeneration facilities and utilities, automobile dealerships, lenders, borrowers and municipal boards in myriad land use contexts, including commercial and residential development and due diligence matters. He also focuses on complex...

David J. Miller Shareholder environmental regulatory, real estate and corporate transactional matters attorney

Dave is an environmental attorney with experience in the private and public sectors who focuses his practice on environmental regulatory, real estate and corporate transactional matters. He counsels clients on site remediation, the Industrial Site Recovery Act (ISRA), Site Remediation Reform Act (SRRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), due diligence, participation in potentially responsible party groups and interaction with the Environmental Protection Agency on Superfund matters.  Dave also advises on the procurement of environmental permits...