Inverse Condemnation in West Long Branch, NJ

Ciaglia v. West Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment (A-0787-10T1)

In a rare example of a case meeting the stringent standard for inverse condemnation, the Appellate Division, in a ruling issued October 25, 2011, reversed the trial court and found the circumstances of that case constituted a taking in Ciaglia v. West Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment. The standard, which is a deprivation or substantially all of the beneficial use of the property, was met in this instance. The case was remanded to the trial court for the institution of an eminent domain case.

The court, in a per curiam unpublished opinion, discussed the detailed factual background of the property, which resulted in a conveyance to the plaintiff of a lot which did not meet current municipal standard. The judges called for a “heightened sensitivity on the part of local land use agents…in order to avoid regulatory takings that would be funded by the municipal treasury. “ (p. 18)

On two occasions, the plaintiff, Joseph Ciaglia, attempted to get approval of variances in order to build a single family home on the lot and was denied. In these circumstances, the court found that there had been a regulatory taking and that Ciaglia was entitled to compensation. The court followed and felt it was bound by the precedent set in the Moroney case. See Maroney v. Mayor and Council of Borough of Old Tappan, 268 NJ Super 458 (App. Div. 1993), cert denied, 136 NJ 295 (1994). In the Maroney case, the plaintiff had not exhausted his administrative rights to seek variance relief regarding the lot in question in that case. Here, Ciaglia had on two occasions sought variance approval and been denied; accordingly, the court remanded the case to the law division for the institution of condemnation proceedings.

The plaintiff in this action was represented by Peter Wegener of the firm of Bathgate and Wegener. Because of his successful resolution of the litigation, he will be entitled to counsel fees and costs pursuant to the Eminent Domain Act of 1971, N.J.S.A. 20:3-26b.

Based upon our review, we are satisfied that Ciaglia was entitled to substantially the same remedy awarded in Moroney. That is, a judgment requiring the Borough to commence procedures pursuant to the Eminent Domain Act of 1971 (the Act), N.J.S.A. 20:3-1 to -50 leading to its acquisition of Lot 20. We leave it to the Law Division to decide whether to appoint commissioners sua sponte, see Moroney, supra, 268 N.J. Super. at 461, or to oblige the Borough to follow some or all of the procedural minutiae of the Act.12 See, e.g., 769 Assocs., LLC, supra, 198 N.J. at 537.

The appeal was argued on September 21, 2011, before Judges Graves, J.N. Harris, and Koblitz.