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July 22, 2014

Re: Weekly Summer Update

Dear Mayor:

I. S-444 and A-1779,  Amendment to the NJ Spill Act

The League supports S-444 and A-1779, which amends the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act to specifically state that any domestic, commercial, or industrial wastewater, sewage, or sewage sludge expelled or released from a public sewer system or a public sewage treatment plant, are exceptions from the Spill Act.

In late 2005 the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) filed an environmental cleanup suit pursuant to the Spill Act against nine businesses for discharging toxic chemicals, mainly dioxin, from a plant in Newark into the Passaic River.   The private companies then filed third party complaints against about 300   public and private entities alleging that those entities had contributed at varying degrees to the contamination of the Passaic River and should bear some of the responsibility. Under the theory that the various public entities contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the contamination of the Passaic River through the discharge of wastewater, a total of 71 municipalities, 6 municipal wastewater entities and 9 State entities were named as third party defendants in the litigation, notwithstanding language in the Spill Act stating that sewage and sewage sludge shall not be considered as hazardous substances.   

The municipal entities named as third parties each paid $95,000 to the State as part of a settlement.   It is our contention, however, that the Legislature intended to exempt municipalities from the requirements of the Spill Act with respect to discharges of sewage and sewage sludge.  S-444 clarifies the intent of the Legislature and will assure that taxpayers will not be held liable in similar circumstances going forward.

Please contact your Legislators and ask them to support S-444 and A-1779.    A model resolution of support is online at: http://njslom.org/resolutions/Resolution_S444&A1779.pdf  or
http://www.njslom.org/resolutions/Resolution_S444&A1779.docx

Contact: Mike Cerra, 609-695-3481x120 or mcerra@njslom.com.

II. A-2997, Eliminates awards of punitive damages against municipalities, and against employees of municipalities acting within the scope or under color of their office, employment or agency.

The League supports A-2997, a bill which would eliminate awards of punitive damages against municipalities and against municipal employees acting within the scope or under color of their office, employment or agency.  Punitive damages are damages that are awarded that go beyond simple compensation as a means of punishing a defendant.

This bill would eliminate the ability of plaintiffs to bring punitive damages claims against municipalities and their employees acting within the scope/color of their office. It also specifically states that healthcare facilities that are run by municipalities are exempt as well.

Municipalities comply with the law, but occasionally mistakes are made. If there has been a violation of law, municipalities should not have to pay punitive damages because, ultimately, it is the taxpayer who is harmed.

Municipalities are too often the focus of frivolous litigation asserted by plaintiffs hoping to recover very large punitive damage awards. This law would remove the possibility of such awards and, as a consequence, may lower the likelihood of frivolous litigation.

The League eagerly supports A-2997. The bill awaits consideration in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Contact: Ed Purcell Esq. at 609-695-3481, ext. 137 or epurcell@njslom.org.

Very truly yours,

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director

 

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