City’s Delay in Abating Dangerous Condition Deemed Not Unreasonable
May 23, 2017 | Written by: Share|
The Appellate Division recently held that a delay of more than one year in abating a “dangerous condition” was not “palpably unreasonable” because the municipality was required to publicly bid a contract for such repairs.
The plaintiffs in Tider v. City of Jersey City, DOCKET NO. A–3611–14T1 (N.J. App. Div. April 4, 2017), filed a lawsuit alleging that uneven pavement in front of their residence caused vibrations in their home when vehicles passed over it. Between August 2012 and June 2013, plaintiffs notified municipal officials, filed a notice of tort claim, and hired an engineer that opined the home was structurally damaged by the vibrations. In or about June 2013, the local utilities authority repaired portions of the road in front of the residence. However, plaintiffs alleged that such repairs did not abate the condition and they filed a second notice of tort claim in December 2013 and a lawsuit later that month. In December 2014, the utilities authority completed more road repairs. The plaintiffs did not dispute that these repairs abated the condition, but they continued the lawsuit seeking monetary damages.
The city and utilities authority filed for summary judgment. As part of that motion, the utilities authority stated that it was required to publicly bid the repairs conducted in December 2014. The repairs conducted in June 2013 were also publicly bid; however, that contractor refused to conduct the additionally required repair work as part of the original bid. Therefore, a new public bid was required. The motion judge held that the vibrations did not constitute a “dangerous condition” and the delay in repairing the road was not “palpably unreasonable” pursuant to the Tort Claims Act. N.J.S.A. 59:4-1 et seq.
The plaintiffs appealed and the Appellate Division reversed in part and affirmed in part. The Appellate Division agreed with the plaintiffs that the vibrations constituted a “dangerous condition.” N.J.S.A. 56:4-1. However, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court’s finding that the delay in repairing the road was not “palpably unreasonable.” N.J.S.A. 59:4-2. The Appellate Division focused on the process in which the municipality had to engage in order to budget for and then publicly bid the road repairs. The Court further acknowledged that due to budget constraints, the municipality had to prioritize road repairs each year. The Court noted, “The City has limited resources, and it had the discretion to allocate those resources in a manner that prioritized other needs over repaving projects in the face of competing demands.” The Court continued, “[T]he fiscal and practical constraints involved do not justify a finding of palpably unreasonable conduct by the City.”
This case indicates that courts will take into consideration the unique budget and public contracting constraints placed upon a municipality when considering whether to find liability under the Tort Claims Act.