May 15, 2012
Supreme Court decision in Seals v. County of Morris
Today the Supreme Court released its decision in the case of Seals v. County of Morris. In February 2003, an automobile driven by John Seals skidded across the road and struck an electric utility pole owned by Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L). He sued both Morris County, which owned and maintained the roadway, and JCP&L, which owned and maintained the light pole.
The Appellate Division granted immunity to JCP&L under a legal doctrine first espoused in Contey v. New Jersey Bell Telephone Company. The County disagreed, indicating that they had no control over the placement of this particular pole some 80 years prior to the accident.
Since the League viewed the Appellate Division decision as a new source of liability that would affect all public bodies, it intervened as amicus curiae. The League argued that a plain reading of the statute at question in Contey showed that the utility immunity applied only to telephone or telegraph poles, not electric poles, like the one owned by JCP&L.
The Court agreed and reversed the Appellate Division’s grant of immunity to JCP&L because, under the statute, they had no say over the location of an electric pole. Based on this, the Court agreed with the County and the League that the utility should not be immune from liability, because public bodies (even cities and towns) have very little power over the placement of electric poles. The Court also remanded the case for further proceedings as to whether the County itself should be immune from liability under the Tort Claims Act.
“If the decision of the Appellate Division had been upheld, the public body, and therefore the taxpayers, would have been entirely responsible for an electric pole they had little or no control over,” said League Executive Director Bill Dressel. “We’re glad the Supreme Court saw otherwise.”
You can read the case at: http://www.njslom.org/documents/A8410SealsvCountyofMorris.pdf
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For further information contact: William G. Dressel, Jr., Executive Director at (609)695-3481, extension 122 or 609-915-9072.
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