Seals v. Morris County

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

The issues in this appeal were whether, pursuant to "Contey v. New Jersey Bell Telephone Co.," 136 N.J. 582 (1994) or N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.1, an electric utility company is entitled to immunity for any negligence in its placement of a pole along a public roadway; and whether a county is entitled to immunity for any negligence on its part pursuant to the Tort Claims Act (TCA), N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 to 12-3. Early one winter morning, plaintiff John Seals was driving his pickup truck and descended a curved, snow-covered road in Washington Township that is owned and maintained by Morris County. Due to the road conditions and despite applying the brakes, plaintiff could not negotiate the curve and the vehicle struck an electric utility pole located several feet from the roadway. He alleged that the County negligently maintained a dangerous roadway condition and that the electric utility company negligently placed the pole. The trial court denied defendants' motions for summary judgment. The court distinguished "Contey," in which the Supreme Court held that a telephone company that placed its pole in compliance with a municipal ordinance owed no duty to a motorist. The trial court reasoned that because the County did not set standards for placing electric poles, and was not statutorily required to do so, the utility is subject to a negligence standard; and although "Contey" did not impose a duty on the County to conduct a safety study, it was not shielded by the TCA because it took "no action" to regulate placement of electric poles. The Appellate Division reversed the denial of summary judgment for JCP&L and vacated the denial of summary judgment for the County. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that neither "Contey" nor N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.1 conferred immunity on the utility for its negligence, if any, in placing the electric pole. If a governmental entity directs a utility where to place a pole (as in "Contey") the utility is immune from liability. When there is no governmental dictate, ordinary negligence standards apply. A utility will be liable if it places or maintains an electric pole where there is an unreasonable and unnecessary danger to travelers upon the highway. Whether the County is entitled to TCA immunity was remanded for further proceedings.


 

SYLLABUS


(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized.)


John Seals and Julia Seals v. County of Morris(A-84/85-10) (067441)


Argued November 9, 2011 -- Decided May 14, 2012


ALBIN, J., writing for a unanimous Court.


The issues in this appeal are whether, pursuant to Conteyv. New Jersey Bell Telephone Co.,136 N.J.582 (1994) orN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1,anelectricutility companyisentitled to immunity for anynegligencein its placement of a pole along a public roadway; and whether a county is entitled to immunity for any negligence on its part pursuant to the TortClaims Act (TCA), N.J.S.A.59:1-1 to 12-3.

 

Because this appeal arises from defendants motions for summary judgment, the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Early one winter morning, plaintiff John Seals was driving his pickup truck and descended a curved, snow-covered road in Washington Township that is owned and maintained by Morris County. Due to the road conditions and despite applying the brakes, plaintiff could not negotiate the curve and the vehicle struck an electric utility pole located several feet from the roadway. Heallegedthat the County negligently maintained a dangerous roadway condition and thattheelectricutility company negligently placed the pole.

 

The pole, designated #617, is owned by Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) and was located on private property over which the County has a right-of-way. Between 1989 and 2003, three accidents directly involved Pole #617. During the 1990s, four accidents occurred nearby; some of those occurred in a similar manner to the one here in which a motorist skidded on slick pavement and was unable to negotiate the curve. JCP&L maintained Pole #617 and the other electric poles without involving the County, conducting a safety study, or considering accidents that had occurred. Local police notified JCP&L if one of its poles was involved in an accident. Although JCP&L did not keep accident records per se, it did maintain records on whether a hit pole was damaged and when it was repaired or replaced. According to JCP&L, it would have moved Pole #617 at the County s request; otherwise, it would not move a pole, regardless of the number of accidents. The County asserts that it has no police force and is unaware of accidents on its roadways unless municipal police report them, and that Washington Township did not notify the County of accidents involving or occurring near Pole #617. According to the County, its engineers do not have the time or funding to assess the safety of the 7,000 to 8,000 utility poles located along its roadways.

 

The trial court denied defendants motions for summary judgment. The court distinguished Contey,in which theSupreme Court held that a telephone company that placed its pole in compliance with a municipal ordinance owed no duty to a motorist. Thetrial courtreasoned thatbecausethe County did notset standardsfor placingelectricpoles,andwas not statutorily required to do so,the utility is subject to anegligencestandard;and although Conteydidnot imposea duty onthe Countyto conduct a safety study, itwas not shieldedby the TCAbecauseit took no action to regulate placementofelectric poles.TheAppellateDivisionreversedthe denial of summary judgment for JCP&Land vacatedthe denial of summary judgment for the County.417 N.J.Super.74 (2010). The panel concluded that JCP&L could not be found liable because the County and Township gave implicit approval for the pole s location by their silence, and that whether the County was immune was not sufficiently developed before the trial court. TheCourt grantedleaveto appeal. 205 N.J.269-70 (2011).


HELD: Neither Contey nor N.J.S.A.48:3-17.1confers immunity on the utility for its negligence, if any, in placing the electric pole. If a governmental entity directs a utility where to place a pole as in Contey the utility is immune from liability. When there is no governmental dictate, ordinary negligence standards apply. A utility will be liable if it places or maintains an electric pole where there is an unreasonable and unnecessary danger to travelers upon the highway. Whether the County is entitled to TCA immunity must be remanded for further proceedings.


1. In Contey, the plaintiff s vehicle struck a telephone pole placed near a curb. She sued the telephone company and others, but dismissed or settled claims against the public entities. The Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the telephone company. The Court referred to N.J.S.A. 48:17-11, which provides that a telephone utility must comply with local municipal ordinances that designate the location of poles. The essential holding in Contey is that a utility company that is directed by a governmental entity to place poles in a particular location should not be held liable for a decision beyond its control. Contey did not suggest that a utility that places a pole in an unsafe location, without any public entity involvement, is entitled to immunity. Further, the utility pole in this case is an electric pole, not a telephone pole. Under N.J.S.A. 48:17-11, a municipality or county must select the exact location of a telephone pole. Under the statute that is relevant here, N.J.S.A. 48:7-1, a town or city (but not a county) only designates the street on which an electric pole will be placed. That distinction is critical here because Contey construed a telephone-pole statute, not an electric-pole statute. N.J.S.A. 48:7-1 does not authorize the County to designate the exact location of Pole #617 or even the street generally where it could be located; and the County passed no ordinance concerning the location of the pole. Washington Township, which is not a party, also did not pass an ordinance. JCP&L alone chose the location for Pole #617. (pp. 18-24)


2. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, JCP&L placed Pole #617 in an unreasonably dangerous location and is accountable for its negligence, if any. A utility company is required to exercise ordinary care to prevent injuries, and is permitted to presume that vehicles ordinarily are expected to remain on the roadway. So long as a utility company that is acting without governmental direction does not place or maintain an electric pole in a spot where there is an unreasonable and unnecessary danger to travelers upon the highway, no liability will follow. Although a county may direct by ordinance the moving of a utility pole within its right-of-way that poses an immediate hazard to the traveling public, the failure to do so is not an implicit approval that absolves the utility company from its own negligence. (pp. 24-28)


3. N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.1 does not provide a separate basis for granting summary judgment in JCP&L s favor. That statute provides that when a utility has maintained a pole at the same location for ten years, the landowner is presumed to have consented to the placement and there shall be no lawsuit to have the pole removed. The County s easement over the property on which Pole #617 is placed is not equivalent to property ownership. Nothing in the statute suggests that if a public entity remains silent, it has given its tacit approval of the pole s location. (pp. 28-29)


4. The issue of whether, as a matter of law, the County is entitled to immunity under the TCA must be remanded to the trial court. It appears that the only potential basis for the County s liability is that the roadway was a dangerous condition, the County was on notice of it, the condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury and proximately caused plaintiff s injury, and the County s failure to protect against the condition was palpably unreasonable. N.J.S.A. 59:4-2. If it was not reasonably foreseeable that a vehicle would veer off the roadway, then the pole did not present a danger and N.J.S.A. 59:2-3, which addresses immunity for discretionary activities, would not come into play. On remand, the trial court must address on a complete record the facts and legal issues arising under the TCA, including whether the County is shielded by plan or design immunity under N.J.S.A. 59:4-6. It must also consider whether plaintiff should be held to his apparent abandonment of his claim under N.J.S.A. 59:4-2. (pp. 30-35)


The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSEDand the matter is REMANDEDto the trial court for further proceedings consistent with the Court s opinion.


CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER, JUSTICES LaVECCHIA and PATTERSON, and JUDGE WEFING (temporarily assigned) join in JUSTICE ALBIN s opinion. JUSTICE HOENS did not participate.

 

SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY

A-84/ 85 September Term 2010

067441


JOHN SEALS and JULIA SEALS, his spouse,


Plaintiff-Appellants

and Cross-Respondents,


v.


COUNTY OF MORRIS,


Defendant-Appellant

and Cross-Respondent,

 

and


TOWNSHIP OF WASHINGTON, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RAY DRAKE, JACK LANZARO, OFFICER LEONARDI, VERIZON, AT&T, CINGULAR, BELL SYSTEM, BELL TELEPHONE, and SPRINT,


Defendants,

 

and

 

JERSEY CENTRAL POWER & LIGHT and FIRST ENERGY CORPORATION,


Defendants-Respondents.


JOHN SEALS and JULIA SEALS, his spouse,


Plaintiffs-Appellants

and Cross-Respondents,


v.


COUNTY OF MORRIS,


Defendant-Appellant

and Cross-Respondent,


and


TOWNSHIP OF WASHINGTON, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RAY DRAKE, JACK LANZARO, OFFICER LEONARDI, VERIZON, AT&T, CINGULAR, BELL SYSTEM, BELL TELEPHONE, and SPRINT,


Defendants,

 

and

 

JERSEY CENTRAL POWER & LIGHT and FIRST ENERGY CORPORATION,


Defendants-Respondents.



ArguedNovember9,2011 DecidedMay14,2012

 

OnappealfromtheSuperiorCourt,AppellateDivision,whoseopinionisreportedat417N.J.Super.74(2010).

 

WilliamL.Goldarguedthecauseforappellantsandcross-respondentsJohnSealsandJuliaSeals(BenditWeinstock,attorneys;GeraldM.Compeau,Jr.,ofcounsel).

 

EdwardJ.Buzak,SpecialCounsel,arguedthecauseforappellantandcross-respondentCountyofMorris(Mr.Buzak,DanielW.O Mullan,MorrisCountyCounsel,RobertB.Woodruff,attorneys;Mr.Woodruff,ofcounsel;Mr.Woodruff,GaryC.AlgeierandKathrynJ.Kingree,onthebriefs).

 

RonaldA.Beruttiarguedthecauseforrespondents(WeinerLesniak,attorneys;Mr.BeruttiandArnoldR.Gerst,ofcounsel).

 

JamesB.VentantoniosubmittedabriefonbehalfofamicuscuriaeVerizonNewJerseyInc.(Ventantonio&Wildenhain,attorneys).

MatthewWengsubmittedabriefonbehalfof

amicuscuriaeNewJerseyStateLeagueof

Municipalities.

 

 

JUSTICE ALBIN delivered the opinion of the Court.

PlaintiffJohnSealscrashedintoanelectricutilitypoleownedbydefendantJerseyCentralPower&Light(JCP&L)andFirstEnergyCorporation.1ThepolewaslocatedonprivatepropertyafewfeetoffaroadmaintainedbydefendantMorrisCountyinWashingtonTownship. PlaintiffclaimsthatJCP&Lisliablefornegligentlyplacingthepoleinadangerouslocationwhereitwasforeseeablethatavehiclewouldveerofftheroadandthatthecountyisliableforitsnegligenceinnothavingitremoved.

JCP&LcontendsthatConteyv.NewJerseyBellTelephoneCo.,136N.J.582(1994)confersimmunityonautilitycompanyforanyinjuryresultingfromtheplacementofautilitypoleoffaroadway. InContey,thisCourtheldthatatelephonecompanythatplaceditspoleonpropertyincompliancewiththedictatesofamunicipalordinanceowednodutytoamotoristwhocollidedwiththepole. Id.at590-91. AlthoughnopublicentitywasinvolvedintheConteyappeal,theCourtfurtherexpresseditsbelief thatresponsibilityforthesafetyofmotoristsshouldrestwiththosewhoown,control,andmaintainthethoroughfare. Id.at590.

BasedonitsreadingofContey,thetrialcourtdeniedJCP&L ssummary-judgmentmotion,reasoningthatbecauseJCP&Ldidnotplaceitselectricpoleinalocationatthedirectionofamunicipalorcountybody,itwasnotimmuneforitsnegligentacts. ThecourtalsodeniedtheCountysummaryjudgment,concludingthata publicentitythatdoesnothing inthefaceofthedangerousplacementofautilitypoleisnotnecessarily offthehook.

TheAppellateDivisionlikewisereliedonConteybutreversed,pronouncingthatJCP&LcouldnotbefoundliablebecausetheCountyandTownshipgaveimplicitapprovalforthepole slocationbytheirsilence. Sealsv.Cnty.ofMorris,417N.J.Super.74,88(App.Div.2010). TheAppellateDivisionadditionallyconcludedthatwhethertheCountywasimmunefromsuithadnotbeensufficientlydevelopedbeforethetrialcourtandthereforeremandedforfurtherproceedings. Id.at94-95.

WebelievethattheAppellateDivisionhasoverreadthereachofConteyandthereforewereverseandremand. First,thestatutesgoverningtheplacementoftelephonepoles,N.J.S.A.48:17-8and17-11,aredifferentfromtheonegoverningelectricpoles,N.J.S.A.48:7-1. Thetelephone-polestatute,N.J.S.A.48:17-11,givestheappropriatemunicipalityorcountyauthoritytodictatethepreciselocationofsuchpoles;ontheotherhand,theelectric-polestatute,N.J.S.A.48:7-1,doesnotgiveasimilarpowertothe incorporatedcityortown wherethepoleislocated. Second,inthiscase,neithertheCountynortheTownshipdirectedJCP&Lwheretolocatetheelectricpole. UnliketheutilityinContey,JCP&Lwassolelyresponsibleforthelocationofitspole. Accordingly,JCP&LisnotentitledtoimmunityunderConteyforanynegligenceintheplacementofthepole. WethereforevacatetheorderofsummaryjudgmententeredinfavorofJCP&L.

Finally,inthiscase,theliabilityofapublicentity,suchastheCounty,mustbejudgedagainsttheimmunityprovisionsoftheNewJerseyTortClaimsAct(TCA),N.J.S.A.59:1-1to12-3. WecandiscernonlyonepotentialtheoryonwhichliabilityagainsttheCountycanrest--thattheroadwaynearthelocationoftheJCP&Lpoleconstitutedadangerousconditionofproperty. PlaintiffcannotsucceedonthisclaimunlesshesatisfiesalltheelementsofN.J.S.A.59:4-2andfurthershowsthathisactionisnotbarredbytheplanordesignimmunityprovisionofN.J.S.A.59:4-6. AlthoughplaintiffpledasacauseofactionadangerousconditionofpropertyunderN.J.S.A.59:4-2,beforethetrialcourt,heseeminglyabandonedthistheoryduetoaplainmisreadingofthestatute. Weremandforfurtherdevelopmentoftherecordandconsiderationoftheseissues.

 

I.

A.

Thiscasecomesbeforeusbasedonappealsfromdefendants motionsforsummaryjudgment.2 Atthisproceduraljuncture,wemustviewtheevidenceofrecordinthelightmostfavorabletoplaintiff,thenon-movingparty. Henryv.N.J.Dep tofHumanServs.,204N.J.320,330(2010)(notingthatappellatecourtreviewingsummary-judgmentmotionappliessamestandardgoverningtrialcourt--viewingevidenceinlightmostfavorabletonon-movingparty);seealsoR.4:46-2.

OnFebruary7,2003,atapproximately4:00a.m.,plaintiffJohnSealswasdrivinghispickuptruckeastboundonCountyRoute513inWashingtonTownship,NewJersey. Theroadwaywascoveredinseveralinchesofsnow. Asplaintiffdescendedahillataboutthirty-fivemilesperhour,heapproachedarightwardcurve. Duetotheslickroadconditionsanddespiteapplyinghisbrakes,plaintiffcouldnotnegotiatethecurveandcontinuedonastraighttrajectory. Plaintiff spickuptruckskiddedstraightoverthecenterlineandacrossthewestboundlaneoftraffic,ultimatelystrikingJCP&L sPole#617locatedseveralfeetofftheroadwayonprivateproperty. Noguardrailseparatedtheroadwayfromthepole;nolightsilluminatedthearea;andnosignwarnedoftheimpendingcurve. Plaintiffclaimshesufferedseriousandpermanentinjuriesinthecrash.


B.

In2005,plaintifffiledacomplaintintheLawDivision,MorrisCounty,allegingthatdefendantMorrisCountynegligentlymaintainedadangerousconditionofproperty--itsroadway--andthatdefendantJCP&Lnegligentlyplacedandmaintainedtheutilitypoleatthecrashsite.3 Plaintifffurtherallegedthatbothdefendantsweretheproximatecauseoftheaccidentandhisinjuries.4

Route 513, once an old stagecoach road, is now owned, controlled, and maintained by Morris County. The utility pole designated #617, on which are strung electric wires, is owned by JCP&L. The pole is located on private property over which the County has a right-of-way. The original Pole #617 was installed at its approximate present-day location by JCP&L s predecessor sometime in 1937 or earlier. The pole has been replaced three times: in 1976, presumably due to age; in 1998, after a motorist who struck the pole was killed; and in 2003, after plaintiff s truck collided into the pole. There also was an automobile accident involving Pole #617 in 1989. Other motor vehicle accidents occurred in the immediate vicinity of the pole in 1991, 1996, 1998, and 1999. At least some of the accidents occurred in a similar manner to the one here: a motorist driving eastbound on Route 513 skidded on wet or icy pavement, was unable to negotiate the curve in the road, crossed over the westbound lane, and slid off the roadway.

JCP&L (or its predecessor) installed Pole #617 and the other electric poles along Route 513 without seeking approval from, or in any way involving, Morris County. On its own, without conducting any safety study, JCP&L determined exactly where to install its utility poles. According to the deposition testimony of its supervising engineer, Richard Santoro, JCP&L did not take into account the number of accidents occurring at a particular location or maintain a database specifically tracking or recording car-pole accidents. Therefore, it had no knowledge [if a] pole was in any way a safety problem. The local police did call JCP&L if one of its poles was involved in an accident. Although JCP&L did not keep accident records per se, following a pole hit, it did maintain records on whether the pole was damaged, whether it had to be replaced, and when it was repaired or replaced.

JCP&Lhadnowrittenguidelinesconcerningthesafeplacementofutilitypoles. Rather,itapproachedthetaskwithpracticalconsiderationsinmind: theneedtoobtainthepropertyowner sapprovalandplacethepoleofftheroadsurfacewithinareasonabledistancetomakeitaccessibleforrepairworkbyacompanytruck. JCP&L,throughitssupervisingengineer,acknowledgedthatnopermitorapprovalwasrequiredfromtheCountybeforeinstallingapole. JCP&L,however,wouldalerttheCountyaboutworkthathadtobedoneonapoleandaboutthetimeinvolved--apparentlybecausetheworkhadtobeperformedfromtheroadway.

According to JCP&L, if the pole posed a safety hazard, JCP&L would have moved the pole at the County s request or the County was free to erect a guardrail to protect motorists. JCP&L s engineer stated that even if Pole #617 had been struck by cars once a year, every year, for ten years, the County -- not JCP&L -- would be responsible for deciding whether the pole should be moved or a guardrail installed. Absent a particular request by a governmental entity, JCP&L would not move a pole, regardless of the number of accidents.

Morris County asserts that it has no police force and that an accident on one of its roadways is investigated by the police in the municipality in which the accident occurred. The County did not become aware of accidents on its roadways unless the municipal police force investigating the matter made a report to the County. Although three motor vehicle accidents directly involved Pole #617 between 1989 and 2003, and four other accidents occurred nearby, the County claims that Washington Township did not notify it of any of those accidents. In other words, the County claims that it was not aware of accidents occurring at or near Pole #617 before plaintiff s crash.

The County explains, by way of certifications from County Engineer Christopher Vitz and Director of Public Works Stephen W. Hammond, that its nine full-time engineers had neither the time nor the funding to assess the safety of the 7,000 to 8,000 utility poles located along the County s roadways. Moreover, according to Hammond, utility pole placement/location has been the province of the utility company, and not the County of Morris.


II.

A.

PlaintiffSeals,defendantJCP&L,anddefendantMorrisCountyallmovedforsummaryjudgment. Ultimately,thetrialcourtdeniedallthreemotions. ThecourtwasnotpersuadedthatConteyprovidedJCP&Lwithimmunity. ThecourtdistilledthefollowingfromContey: ifapublicentitysetsthestandards,andtheutilitycomplies,theutilityisoffthehook. BecausetheCountydidnotsetanystandardsfortheplacementofanelectricpole,andwasnotrequiredtodosobystatute,theutilitycompanyis subjectto[a]straightnegligencestandard. Onthatbasis,thecourtdeniedsummaryjudgmentinfavorofJCP&L.

ThecourtdeclinedtofindthattheCountywasentitledtoimmunityundertheTortClaimsAct. AlthoughthecourtrejectedtheargumentthatConteyimposedadutyontheCountytoconducta safetystudy, thecourtneverthelessconcludedthattheCountycouldnotbeshieldedbytheTortClaimsActbecauseittook noaction toregulatethelocationoftheelectricpoles.

The court did not give reasons for denying plaintiff s summary-judgment motion, but was apparently convinced that there were material issues of fact in dispute that had to be decided by a jury.


B.

TheAppellateDivisiongrantedtheparties motionsforleavetoappeal. Theappellatepanelthen(1)reversedthedenialofsummaryjudgmentforJCP&L;(2)vacatedthedenialofsummaryjudgmentfortheCounty,remandingthatmatterforfurtherproceedings;and(3)affirmedthedenialofsummaryjudgmentforplaintiff. Seals,supra,417N.J.Super.at78,95.

ThepanelfirstconcludedthatJCP&LwasentitledtoimmunityunderourdecisioninContey. Id.at84-89. ThepaneldeducedfromthelanguageofConteyonecontrollingprinciple--that governmentalentities[have]thedutytoestablishstandardsfortheinitialplacementandcontinuedexistenceofutilitypolesalongtheroadwaysinthisState. Id.at87. ThatprinciplefollowedfromContey sreferencetoN.J.S.A.48:17-11,as requir[ing]utilitycompaniestoerectpolesinaccordancewithordinancesandresolutionsadoptedbythelocalmunicipalityorboardoffreeholders. Id.at86. ItalsofollowedfromContey sexpressedbeliefthatthe responsibilityforthesafetyofmotoristsshouldrestwiththose[publicentitiesthat]own,control,andmaintainthethoroughfare....Publicbodiesmaybytheirordinancesandregulationsrequiretherelocation,removal,shielding,orredesignofpolesthatdonotmeetsafetystandards. Id.at87(quotingContey,supra,136N.J.at590). Thepanelreasonedthatifpublicentitieshadthepowertoregulatethelocationofautilitypolethroughtheirlawmakingauthority,thenthoseentities intheabsenceofanordinance,resolution,regulation,orothergovernmentalaction,implicitlyplacedtheirimprimaturonPole#617 slocation. Id.at88(emphasisadded).

Asfurthersupportforthatconclusion,thepanelpointedtoN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1,whichpresumesthatapropertyownerconsentstothelocationofautilitypoleonhispropertyifthepolehasremainedatsubstantiallythesamespotforatleasttenyears. Ibid. UtilizingN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1,thepanelfurtherreasonedthat,giventheCounty seasementoverthe propertywherethepoleislocated, theCountyand Township ssilenceonthepole slocationcanonlybedeemedanotherexampleofthegovernmentalentities implicitapprovalofthepole slocation. Ibid. Thus,bythepanel sreckoning,thefailureoftheCountytodirectorrequestJCP&LtomovethelocationofthepoleconferredimmunityonJCP&Lforanymotorvehicleaccidentinvolvingthepole. Thepanelthereforereversedthetrialcourt s orderdenyingsummaryjudgmenttoJCP&LbothpursuanttoConteyaswellaspursuanttoN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1. Id.at89.

InaddressingtheCounty sappeal,twomembersofthepanelexpressedtheirbeliefthatContey didnotintendtorecognizeanovelsourceofliabilityagainstpublicentitiesoutsideoftheTCA. Id.at91. Themajoritynotedthat plaintiff scounselconceded beforethetrialcourtthattheCountycouldnotbeheldliableformaintainingadangerousconditionofpropertybecausePole#617wasnotontheCounty sroadway,seeN.J.S.A.59:4-2,orforfailuretoinspect,seeN.J.S.A.59:2-6,orforfailuretoenactanordinanceregulatingthelocationofthepole,seeN.J.S.A.59:2-4. Ibid.

ThemajoritythenturnedtotheCounty sassertionthatitwasprotectedbyN.J.S.A.59:2-3(c)and(d),whichprovideimmunitywhenapublicentityexercises discretionindeterminingwhethertoseekor...provide[certain]resources, N.J.S.A.59:2-3(c),andwhenitexercisesdiscretionindetermining whetherandhowtoutilizeorapplyexistingresources inthefaceofcompetingdemands, N.J.S.A.59:2-3(d). Id.at93-94. Basedontherecord,whichincludedconclusorycertificationsfromtheCounty sengineers,thepanelcouldnotfindthat thedecisiontodeferresponsibilityforplacingutilitypolesalongcountyroadwaystoutilitycompanieswastheexerciseofdiscretionsubjecttoimmunityundereithersubsection(c)or(d) ofN.J.S.A.59:2-3. Id.at94. Nevertheless,thepanelremandedforfurtherproceedingsbecausetheargumentsregardingTCAimmunityfortheCountyhad notbeensufficientlydeveloped. Id.at95. Finally,thepaneldeterminedthatplaintiff sappealfromthedenialofsummaryjudgmentwaswhollywithoutmerit. Id.at94.

Aseparateconcurringopinionexpresseddisagreementwiththemajority scommentarythatConteydoesnotimpose anovelsourceofliabilityagainstpublicentitiesoutside theTCA. Id.at95(Fisher,J.A.D.,concurring). Theconcurrenceobserved,however,thatthescopeoftheCounty s obligationremainsuncertainandtheTCAmaycloak[itwith]immunityinthesecircumstances. Id.at96(Fisher,J.A.D.,concurring). TheconcurrenceagreedwiththemajoritythattherecordhadnotbeensufficientlydevelopedtogranttheCountyimmunityunderN.J.S.A.59:2-3. Ibid.

MotionsforleavetoappealwerefiledbybothplaintiffandtheCounty,andbothweregranted. Sealsv.Cnty.ofMorris,205N.J.269(2011);Sealsv.Cnty.ofMorris,205N.J.270(2011). WealsograntedthemotionsofNewJerseyStateLeagueofMunicipalitiesandVerizonNewJerseyInc.toparticipateasamicicuriae.

 

III.

ThepartiesandamiciinvokedifferinginterpretationsofConteytosupportthepositionstheyadvance. PlaintiffcontendsthatConteyprovidedimmunitytoautilityonlyifitlocatedapole inaccordancewiththelocationanddesignauthorizedbythepublicbody. Contey,supra,136N.J.at591. Accordingtoplaintiff,theAppellateDivisionimproperlyreliedona legalfiction thattheCountygaveits implicitimprimatur totheplacementofthepolebygivingnodirectivetoJCP&L. That legalfiction shouldnotstand,saysplaintiff,becauseitevadestheexplicitdictatesofConteyandbecauseJCP&Lplaceditspoleswhereveritwanted,withoutregardtosafety,anddidnotreporttotheCountytheaccidentsinvolvingPole#617. EveniftheCountybyitssilencedelegatedtheplacementofpolestoJCP&L,plaintiffsubmitsthatJCP&Lnegligentlyexecutedthedutytolocatethosepolesatsafesites. PlaintiffalsoproffersthatnoprovisionoftheTortClaimsActcloakstheCountywithimmunity.

Notsurprisingly,theCountyagreeswithplaintiffthattheAppellateDivisionerredbyfindingthattheCounty ssilenceonthepole splacementconstitutes implicitapproval forthepole slocation. TheCountyassertsthatthepanel sruling shiftstheburdenofresponsibilityfromtheentitythatplacedthepole seventytoeightyyearsagototheCounty,whichhadnoinvolvementintheutility sdecision. TheCountyalsoargues--asdidplaintiff--thatthepanelmisappliedN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1,whichsimplystatesthatthe ownerofthesoil cannotseekremovalofapoletenyearsafteritsplacement. TheCountyobservesthatN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1 isnotdesignedtorelievetheutilityofanyliabilityifthepolewasplacednegligently, nordoesittransferliabilitytothepublicentity. TheCountyclaimsthat,underthepanel sholding,itisliableforJCP&L snegligentplacementofthepole,eventhoughtheCountyhadnostatutorypowertorelocatethepole. Last,theCountysubmitsthatundernoprovisionoftheTortClaimsActcanitbeheldliable.

AmicusLeagueofMunicipalitiessupportstheCounty spositionseekingreversalofthepanel sdecision. TheLeaguepositsthattelephoneandelectricpolesaregovernedbydifferentstatutesthatyielddifferentresultsand,forthatreason,Contey doesnotapplytoissuesinvolvingelectriccompanies. Evenunderthestatutethatappliestoelectricpoles,theLeaguenotes, thepermissionofMorrisCountyisimmaterialtotheplacementofthepole becauseonlycitiesandtownsarementionedashavinganyroleinapole slocation.

Ontheotherhand,JCP&LassertsthattheAppellateDivisionproperlyconstruedConteyandappliedN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1. TheAppellateDivisiondidnotsuggest,accordingtoJCP&L,thattheCountydelegateditsdutytotheutility. ThepanelonlyaddressedwhethertheCountymightbeabletoassertadiscretionaryimmunitybecauseit haddeferredresponsibility concerningthelocationorremovalofthepole.

AmicusVerizon,takingupthecauseoftheutilitiesindustry,assertsthatConteyrecognizedthatutilities arenotinthebusinessofroadwaydesignandengineering. Verizonsubmitsthatpublicbodiescontroleveryaspectofthesafetyoftheroadwaystheyplan,design,andmaintain,andonepartofthisoverallgovernmentalcontrolincludestheselectionofthelocationofutilitypoles. ItisVerizon sviewthatJCP&Lhascompliedwiththestatutegoverningelectricpoles,and intheabsenceofanymorerigorousrequirementsenactedbyMorrisCounty, JCP&LisentitledtoimmunityunderContey.

 

IV.


ThefirstissuebeforeusiswhethertheAppellateDivision,inrelyingonConteyandN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1,erredingrantingJCP&Limmunityforanynegligenceintheplacementofitselectricpolethatallegedlywastheproximatecauseofplaintiff sinjuries. ThesecondissueiswhetherMorrisCountyisanswerableforanynegligenceonitspartconsistentwiththeimmunityprovisionsoftheTortClaimsAct.


A.

InContey,theplaintiff,AltheaContey,missedanunmarkedS-curveonaroadwayandstruckatelephonepolestandingteninchesoffthecurblineintheBoroughofFranklinLakes. 136N.J.at583. TheplaintifffiledanegligenceactionagainsttheNewJerseyBellTelephoneCompany,whichownedthepole,theRocklandElectricCompany,whichhadpermissiontoplaceitswiresonthepole,andvariouspublicentities. Id.at583-84. Shevoluntarilysettledordismissedtheclaimsagainstthepublicentities. Id.at584.

Ultimately,theCourtaffirmedthegrantofsummaryjudgmentinfavorofthetwoutilitycompaniesbasedonatheoryofmunicipal-conferredimmunity. Seeid.at591. WefirstrecitethefindingsoffactandlawessentialtotheCourt sconclusion.

InContey,theCourtreferredtoN.J.S.A.48:17-11,whichprovidesthata utilitymusterectitspolesinaccordancewithordinancesandresolutionsadoptedbythelocalmunicipalityorboardoffreeholdersthatdesignate thelocation,numberandsizeofthepoles. Id.at588. AlthoughtheCourtspokebroadlyaboututilities,significantly,forourpurposes,itdidnotmentionthatN.J.S.A.48:17-11onlyappliedtotelegraphandtelephonecompanies.5 Next,theCourtnotedthattheBorough adoptedanordinanceregulatingthelocationofpoles. Id.at589. Theordinance,itappears,refersinparticulartopolesofatelephonecompany,andcertainlyappliedtothedefendantNewJerseyBellTelephone. Ibid. TheCourtalsoexpresseditsbelief thatresponsibilityforthesafetyofmotoristsshouldrestwiththosewhoown,control,andmaintainthethoroughfare, andthathighwayplanners,notutilitymanagers,arebestequippedtodeterminethelocationanddesignofutilitypoles. Id.at590. Finally,theCourtconcludedthat [w]henapublicutilityhaslocateditspolesorstructureswithinpublicrights-of-wayinaccordancewiththelocationanddesignauthorizedbythepublicbody,theutility,intheabsenceofcountermandingdirectionsfromthepublicbody,shouldhavenofurtherdutytoprotectthemotoringpublic. Id.at591.

TheessentialholdinginConteyisthatautilitycompanythatisdirectedbyapublicbody,throughanordinanceoraresolution,toplaceitspolesinaparticularlocationshouldnotbeheldliableforadecisionbeyonditscontrol. Conteydidnotsuggesttheconverse--thatautilitythatplacesapoleinanunsafemannerandlocation,withoutanydirectionorinvolvementfromapublicentity,islikewiseentitledtoimmunity. Indeed,suchasuggestionwouldbecontrarytothemoderntrendinourcommonlaw,whichimposesoneverypersonandentitythedutyofactingreasonablyandwithduecare,underthegivencircumstances,soasnottoendangerorcauseharmtoothers. SeeBeadlingv.Sirotta,41N.J.555,562(1964)( Every[person]isingeneralboundtousecareandskillinhisconductwhereverthereasonablyprudentpersoninhisshoeswouldrecognizeunreasonablerisktoothersfromfailuretousesuchcare. (internalquotationmarksomitted)).

Forthatreason,underourcommonlaw,immunitiesaredisfavoredbecausetheyinsulatepartiesfromtheconsequencesoftheirownnegligence. See,e.g.,Willisv.Dep tofConservation&Econ.Dev.,55N.J.534,537-38(1970)(abrogatingcommon-lawsovereignimmunitybecause [t]herehasbeenasteadymovementawayfromimmunity and [i]tisplainlyunjusttorefuserelieftopersonsinjuredbythewrongfulconductoftheState );Collopyv.NewarkEye&EarInfirmary,27N.J.29,47-48(1958)(abrogatingcommon-lawcharitableimmunitybecause itrunscountertowidespreadprincipleswhichfairlyimposeliabilityonthosewhowrongfullyandnegligentlyinjureothers...anddisregardsmodernconceptsofjusticeandfairdealing ).

Conteycontainssomebroadlanguageregardingtheresponsibilitiesofgovernmentalbodieswhich,ifunmooredfromtheopinion sessentialholding,couldeasilybemisconstrued. Inviewingthatlanguage,wemustrememberthatthepublicentitieswerenotpartiesbeforetheCourtonappeal. TheCourt,forexample,stated:

Althoughutilitycompanieshaveadutytoforeseethatmotoristswillleavethetraveledportionofthehighway,thegovernmentalbodiesandhighwayplannersarebestsuitedtodeterminehowtheutilitiesshouldfulfillthatduty.Thosepublicbodiesareinthebestpositiontoprovideandtoenforcestandardsandregulationsgoverningutilities.Utilitiesdonothavetherighttolocatepoleswherevertheydeemexpedient.Publicbodiesmaybytheirordinancesandregulationsrequiretherelocation,removal,shielding,orredesignofpolesthatdonotmeetsafetystandards.

 

[Contey,supra,136N.J.at590(emphasisadded).]

It may be true that highway planners working for a public body that controls a roadway are best suited to determine how the utilities should fulfill their duty. However, that does not mean that a utility company -- free of governmental compulsion or direction -- can unreasonably and without regard to public safety place its poles in a dangerous location where it is likely to cause injury.

Theutilitypoleinthiscaseisanelectricpole,notatelephonepole,andisgovernedbyastatutedifferentfromtheoneapplicableinContey.6 TheLegislaturehaschosentotreatthesetwotypesofutilitypolesinverydifferentways. Therelevantstatuteinthiscase,N.J.S.A.48:7-1,providesthatpolescarryingelectricityforelectriclight,heat,orpower shall[not]beerectedinanystreetofanincorporatedcityortownwithoutfirstobtainingfromtheincorporatedcityortownadesignationofthestreetinwhichthesameshallbeplacedandthemannerofplacingthesame. (Emphasisadded). Thus,underN.J.S.A.48:7-1,apowercompanyneedonlyobtainfromacityortown--notacounty-- adesignationofthestreet whereitintendstoplaceanelectricpoleandadesignationof themannerofplacingthesame.

Incontrast,underN.J.S.A.48:17-11,atelephonecompanymustsubmit aplanshowingthelocation,numberandsizeofthe[telephone]poles tobeinstalled,andtheappropriatepublicentity shalldesignatebyordinanceorresolution...theparticularlocationinanystreet,roadorhighwaywherethe[pole]shallbeplaced. ThekeydifferencebetweenthetwostatutesisthatunderN.J.S.A.48:17-11,amunicipalityorcountymustselecttheexactlocationofatelephonepoleandapproveapole-layoutplan,butunderN.J.S.A.48:7-1,anincorporatedtownorcity(butnotacounty)onlydesignatesthestreetonwhichanelectricpolewillbeplaced. ThatdistinctioniscriticalherebecauseConteyconstruedatelephone-polestatute,notanelectric-polestatute. Moreover,theLegislaturechosenottoincludecountiesasplayinganyroleintheplacementofelectricpoles.

Inthiscase,theCountyhadnoauthorityunderN.J.S.A.48:7-1todesignatetheexactlocationofPole#617--oreventhestreetgenerallywherethepoleistobelocated--andinfacttheCountypassednoordinanceorresolutionconcerningthelocationofthepole. Inaddition,WashingtonTownship,whichisnotapartytothissuit,butwhichdoeshavestatutoryauthority,didnotpassanordinancedirectingthestreetlocationofthepole. JCP&Ldoesnotdisputethatit,alone,chosethelocationfortheinstallationofPole#617.

Lookingattheevidenceinthelightmostfavorabletoplaintiffonthesummary-judgmentrecordbeforeus,JCP&LplacedPole#617inanunreasonablydangerouslocationandkneworshouldhaveknownofotheraccidentsatthesite. Withoutanycompulsionordirectionfromanygovernmentalauthority,JCP&Lchosefreelythelocationofitsutilitypole. Weseenoreason--andcertainlynolegislativepurpose--inextendingtheimmunityprovidedinConteytothecircumstancesofthiscase. JCP&Listhereforeaccountableforanynegligenceonitspart.

InSternv.InternationalRailwayCo.,115N.E.759(N.Y.1917),then-JudgeCardozosetforthacommon-lawstandardforjudgingtheliabilityofautilitythaterectspolesinornearapublicroadway. Hestatedthatutilitypoles mustbesolocatedastoavoidunreasonableandunnecessarydangertotravelersuponthehighway. Id.at761. Headded: Thequestioniswhethertheplacechosenissodangerousandthedangersoneedlessthatthechoicebecomesunreasonable. Ifdangerinthatdegreeispresent,[thecompanyis]chargedwithliability. Ibid.(emphasisadded). Underthatformulation,autilitycompanyisonlyrequiredtoexerciseordinary--notextraordinary--caretopreventinjuries,andispermittedtopresumethatinthetypicalmannerofoperation,vehiclesareexpectedtoremainontheroadway. SeeOramv.N.J.BellTel.Co.,132N.J.Super.491,494(App.Div.1975). Inshort,autilityisundernoobligationtoguardagainst extraordinaryexigencies. Ibid.

Utility poles, like trees, dot the edges of our roadways across this State. In the ordinary course, tragedies occur when cars veer off a road, striking a tree or utility pole. Every potential hazard abutting our roads and highways cannot be eliminated; our roadways cannot be made perfectly safe. But that does not mean that certain known and unacceptable risks that pose great danger should not be minimized.

Oneofthepurposesofthecommon-lawdutyofduecareistoencouragepartiestotakestepsthatwillreducethelikelihoodofaccidentsandconsequentlawsuits. SeeHojnowskiv.VansSkatePark,187N.J.323,335-36(2006). Solongasautilitycompany--actingwithoutgovernmentaldirection--doesnotplaceormaintainanelectricpoleinaspotwherethereisan unreasonableandunnecessarydangertotravelersuponthehighway, Stern,supra,115N.E.at761,noliabilitywillfollow. Needlesstosay,ifthesameutilitypoleislocatedataperilouspointonaroadandisthesiteofrepeatedcar-poleaccidents,andthepolecanbesafelyandefficientlymoved,thatmaywellbeevidenceofan unreasonableandunnecessarydanger.

WedonotquestionthatMorrisCounty,whichhasresponsibilityformaintainingpublicsafetyonRoute513,hastheauthoritytodirectbyordinanceorresolutionthemovingofautilitypolewithinitsright-of-waythatposesanimmediatehazardtothetravelingpublic. SeeN.J.S.A.27:16-6(imposinguponcountyboardofchosenfreeholders dutyofmaintainingandkeepinginrepairevery[county]road andconferring allotherdutiesandallpowersrespectingsuchroad );N.J.S.A.27:16-37(grantingcountyboardofchosenfreeholdersauthorityto removeanytrafficposts,trafficlightsorotherobstructionfromapubliccountyroadwhen,byresolution,itshalldeterminesuchremovaltobeadvisable ). However,thefailuretodosoisnot,astheAppellateDivisionsuggests,an implicitimprimatur --asealofapproval--thatabsolvestheutilitycompanyfromitsownnegligence. Becauseacountyormunicipalityisimmuneforitsfailuretoenactanordinance,seeN.J.S.A.59:2-4,doesnotmeanthatautilityisfreefromtheconsequencesofitsnegligence. Inotherwords,agovernmentbody sfailuretoactisnotaninvitationtoautilitycompanytosuspenditsdutytoexerciseduecare.

Last,wenotethatfrom2005to2010,vehicularcollisionswithutilitypolesclaimedthelivesof5,000peopleinthiscountry,7includingmorethan230livesinthisState.8 Ithardlybearsmentioningthatthesafeplacementofapolemaybealife-savingmeasure.

Incertaininstances,itmaybecomereadilyapparentthatapoleislocatedatadangeroussite. Ifvehiclesrepeatedlystrikethesamepole,itmaysuggestthatthepoleposesanunreasonableriskofcausingseriousbodilyinjuryordeath. Undersuchcircumstances,theutilitycompanythatplacedthatpole,inexercisingduecare,mayhaveadutytoact. Tosummarize,weconcludethatConteydoesnotconferimmunityonJCP&Lforitsnegligence,ifany,intheplacementofPole#617.


B.

WealsodisagreewiththeAppellateDivisionthatN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1providesabasis--separatefromContey--forthegrantingofsummaryjudgmentinfavorofJCP&L. SeeSeals,supra,417N.J.Super.at88. N.J.S.A.48:3-17.1states,inpertinentpart,thatwhenautilitycompanyhasmaintainedeitheranelectricortelephonepole

atsubstantiallythesamelocationorlocationsforaperiodoftenyears...suchoccupancyshallbepresumedtobewiththeconsentinwritingoftheownerofthesoiluponwhichsuchpoleorpoleshavebeenplaced,andnosuit,actionorproceedingshalllieinanycourtofthisStatefortheremovalofanypoleorpolessoplacedandused.

 

[(Emphasis added).]

 

TheAppellateDivisionacknowledgedthat thepropertyonwhichPole#617isplacedisnotownedbytheCounty, yetapparentlyitdeemedtheCounty spossessionof aneasementoverthatportionofthepropertywherethepoleislocated, asthesubstantialequivalentofownershipforpurposesofthestatute. Seals,supra,417N.J.Super.at88. Basedonthatreadingofthestatute,theappellatepanelconcludedthattheCounty s silenceonthepole slocation isyetanotherexampleofits implicitapprovalofthepole slocation. Ibid.

Thatinterpretationcannotbereconciledwiththelanguageofthestatute. Aneasementoverpropertyisnottheequivalentoftheownershipofproperty. SeeTewksburyTwp.v.JerseyCent.Power&LightCo.,159N.J.Super.44,49(App.Div.1978)( Aneasementisaninterestinlandownedbyanother. ),aff do.b.,79N.J.398(1979). Thestatute,byitswording,isobviouslyintendedtosettlerights,givingautilitycompanyapermanenteasementinpropertythroughananaloguetoadversepossession. NowhereinN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1istheretheslightestsuggestionthatthestatutewasintendedtoempoweracounty,orotherpublicentity,withtheauthoritytoordertheremovalofautilitypole,andthatifthegovernmentalauthorityremainedsilent,itwasgivingtacitapprovaltothelocationofthepole. WethereforemustrejecttheAppellateDivision sinterpretationasamisreadingofN.J.S.A.48:3-17.1.


V.

We agree with the Appellate Division that the issue of whether the County is entitled to summary judgment based on an immunity provision in the Tort Claims Act must be remanded for further development in the record. We disagree, however, with the Appellate Division on the precise issue that should be the focus of the remand proceeding.

Wemakethefollowingobservations. Atapproximately4:00a.m.,plaintiffproceededdownasnow-coveredhillonRoute513inhispickuptruck. Plaintiffclaimshewasunabletonegotiatetherightwardcurveintheroadduetotheslicksurfaceconditions. Despiteapplyinghisbrakes,hecontinuedonastraightpathacrosstheoppositelaneoftraffic,strikingthepolejustofftheroadway.

Asweseeit,theonlypotentialbasisfortheCounty sliabilityisthattheroadwaycurveatthebottomofRoute513wasadangerousconditionofpropertyofwhichtheCountywasonnotice,actualorconstructive;thatplaintiff s injurywasproximatelycausedbythedangerouscondition ; thatthedangerousconditioncreatedareasonablyforeseeableriskofthekindofinjurywhichwasincurred ;andthatthefailureoftheCountytoprotectagainsttheconditionwas palpablyunreasonable. SeeN.J.S.A.59:4-2. Asmentionedearlier,autilitycompanycanpresumethatvehiclesareexpectedtoremainontheroadway. Anelectricpoleposesanunacceptablehazardtomotoristsonlyiftherewas areasonablyforeseeablerisk thatavehiclewillleavetheroadwayandstrikethepole. Needlesstosay,ifitwasnotreasonablyforeseeablethatavehiclewouldveerofftheroadway,thenthepoledidnotpresentadanger. Inthatcase,theapplicationofN.J.S.A.59:2-3,whichaddressesapublicentity simmunityforcertaindiscretionaryactivities--thefocalpointoftheAppellateDivision sremand--wouldnotcomeintoplay. PlaintiffadvancedthetheorythattheCounty s deferral ofmovingthepoleisnotadiscretionaryactivityprotectedbyN.J.S.A.59:2-3. However,thattheoryisonlymeaningfuliftheCountycreatedoracquiescedinadangeronitsownproperty. N.J.S.A.59:2-3cannotbeinvokedasanendrunaroundN.J.S.A.59:4-2,thestatutemostcloselyalignedtotheissueindispute.

PlaintiffpledacauseofactionunderN.J.S.A.59:4-2inhiscomplaint,whichheseeminglyabandonedatthesummary-judgmenthearinginfavorofthetheoryunderN.J.S.A.59:2-3. Atthehearing,plaintiff sattorneystatedthattheactionwasnota 59:4issueatall, becausetheCountyisonly liablefor[anaccident]causedbyaconditiononitsproperty. PlaintiffwasclearlymistakenwhenheadvisedthetrialcourtthatN.J.S.A.59:4-2wasinapplicablebecausetheCountydidnotownthepoleorbecauseitwasnotontheCounty sproperty. Itisenoughifplaintiff sinjurywas causedbyaconditionofitsproperty, eveniftheinjuryitselfoccursofftheproperty. SeeN.J.S.A59:4-2. Thus, whenapublicentitycreatesorsuffersadangerousconditiononpublicpropertythatleadsineluctablyandforeseeablytoinjury,itisnotinsulatedfromliabilityunderN.J.S.A.59:4-2,eveniftheultimateinjurytakesplaceoffthepublicsite. Smithv.FireworksbyGirone,Inc.,180N.J.199,217(2004). Therefore,theCountyisnotimmunefromliabilityforadangerousconditionofitsroadway,merelybecausetheaccidentitselftookplaceonprivateproperty.

ThepossibleapplicabilityofN.J.S.A.59:4-2tothefactsofthiscasepresupposesthattheCountyisnotentitledtoplanordesignimmunityunderN.J.S.A.59:4-6.9 Accordingtothe1972AttorneyGeneral sTaskForceonSovereignImmunity, once[planordesign]immunityattachesnosubsequenteventorchangeofconditionsshallrenderapublicentityliableonthetheorythattheexistingplanordesignofpublicpropertyconstitutesadangerouscondition. HarryA.Margolis&RobertNovack,ClaimsagainstPublicEntities,1972AttorneyGeneral sTaskForceonSovereignImmunitycommentonN.J.S.A.59:4-6(Gann2012). WhetherRoute513oranyimprovementstotheroadfallwithintheplanordesignimmunityofN.J.S.A.59:4-6isamatterfortheremandcourttoconsider.

Onthepresentrecord,thecasebeforeushasmuchincommonwithLuczakv.TownshipofEvesham,311N.J.Super.103(App.Div.),certif.denied,156N.J.407(1998). Luczakinvolvedawrongful-deathactionbroughtagainstthetownshipformaintaininganallegedlydangerouscurvedintersection. Id.at105-06. LikeRoute513,theroadinLuczakwasanoldstagecoachroad,whichthetownshiplater inherited andimprovedthroughsuchactsaspaving. Id.at106-08. TheAppellateDivisionheldthat thetrialcourtimproperlydirectedaverdictin[thetownship s]favorbecause[thetownship]presentednoevidencethatitoranyofitsdepartmentsoremployeesapprovedanyplanordesignconcerningtheconditionof[theallegeddangerousroad]ormadeanyotherdecisionconcerning[thatroad]. Id.at109. TheAppellateDivision,however,pointedoutthatonremandthetownshipcouldseeksummaryjudgmentbasedonN.J.S.A.59:4-6ifitcouldshow priorapprovalofaspecificplanordesignaddressingtheallegeddangerouscondition. Id.at112. TheAppellateDivisionalsorejectedanysuggestionthatthetownshiphadadutytomakedesignimprovements,suchasinstallingguardrails. Ibid.

ThisisnottheoccasionforustoreachthelegalmeritsofLuczak,butthatcasemayhelpfocustheattentionofthepartiesintheremandproceeding. WedonotofferanadvisoryopiniontothetrialcourtonwhethertheCountyisshielded--asamatteroflaw--byanimmunityprovisionoftheTortClaimsAct. Thetrialcourtmustrenderadecisionbasedonacompleterecord,addressingthesalientfactsanddifficultlegalissuesarisingundertheTCA. Onremand,thecourtalsomustconsiderwhetherplaintiffshouldbeheldtohisapparentabandonmentofhisinitiallypledtheorythattheroadwayconstitutedadangerousconditionofpropertyunderN.J.S.A.59:4-2.


VI.

For the reasons expressed, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Division granting summary judgment in favor of JCP&L. We therefore reinstate the action against JCP&L. We remand to the trial court to determine whether, as a matter of law, the County is entitled to immunity under the Tort Claims Act, and for other proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction.

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER, JUSTICES LaVECCHIA and PATTERSON, and JUDGE WEFING (temporarily assigned) join in JUSTICE ALBIN s opinion. JUSTICE HOENS did not participate.

SUPREMECOURTOFNEWJERSEY


NO. A-84/85 SEPTEMBERTERM2010

ON APPEAL FROM Appellate Division, Superior Court


JOHN SEALS and JULIA SEALS,

his spouse,

Plaintiff-Appellants

and Cross-Respondents,


v.


COUNTY OF MORRIS,

Defendant-Appellant

and Cross-Respondent,


and


TOWNSHIP OF WASHINGTON, STATE

OF NEW JERSEY, RAY DRAKE,

JACK LANZARO, OFFICER

LEONARDI, VERIZON, AT&T,

CINGULAR, BELL SYSTEM, BELL

TELEPHONE, and SPRINT,

Defendants,


and


JERSEY CENTRAL POWER & LIGHT

and FIRST ENERGY CORPORATION,

Defendants-Respondents.



DECIDED May14,2012

Chief Justice Rabner PRESIDING

OPINIONBY JusticeAlbin

CONCURRING/DISSENTINGOPINIONBY

DISSENTING OPINION BY

 

CHECKLIST

REVERSE AND REMAND


CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER

X


JUSTICE LaVECCHIA

X


JUSTICE ALBIN

X


JUSTICE HOENS

--------------------------

----------------------

JUSTICE PATTERSON

X


JUDGE WEFING (t/a)

X



5



1 First Energy is the parent company of JCP&L. For ease of reference, we refer to both as JCP&L.

2 Plaintiff is not appealing the denial of his summary-judgment motion.

3 The complaint alleged, in part, that [a]mong other things, this two-lane roadway, which went downhill and curved to the right, was pitched improperly, lacked a guardrail, had utility poles set too close to the roadway and treed areas bordering the roadway, . . . and was not illuminated.


4 In the complaint, plaintiff s wife, Julia Seals, asserts a loss-of-consortium claim. Plaintiff also named a number of other defendants, all of whom were later dismissed from the case. Those dismissed defendants are not relevant to this appeal.

5 N.J.S.A. 48:17-11 provides:


The governing body of any municipality or the board of freeholders of any county on granting permission to use any street, road or highway for a local line, or on written application to it by any such telegraph or telephone company desiring to construct any through line, shall designate by ordinance or resolution the streets, roads or highways in, along, over or under which the poles, wires, conduits and other fixtures shall be erected or constructed and the manner of erecting or constructing the same and the particular location in any street, road or highway where the same shall be placed.

 

They shall be located and constructed according to a plan showing the location, number and size of the poles, conduits and other fixtures to be approved by the governing body or board of freeholders before any work is begun. They shall be so placed as not to interfere with the safety or convenience of persons or vehicles traveling on any such street, road or highway.

 

[(Emphasis added).]

6 Whether it makes any sense to have differing statutes regulating electric and telephone poles is a matter for the Legislature, not for this Court.

7 See Nat l Hwy. Traffic Safety Admin., FARS Encyclopedia: Query, http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/QueryTool/QuerySection/SelectYear.aspx (last visited April 16, 2012) (select year, State: All States, Most Harmful Event: Utility Pole, and Severity of Injury: Fatal ).


8 See id. (select year, State: New Jersey, Most Harmful Event: Utility Pole, and Severity of Injury: Fatal ).

9 N.J.S.A. 59:4-6 provides:


Neither the public entity nor a public employee is liable under this chapter for an injury caused by the plan or design of public property, either in its original construction or any improvement thereto, where such plan or design has been approved in advance of the construction or improvement by the Legislature or the governing body of a public entity or some other body or a public employee exercising discretionary authority to give such approval or where such plan or design is prepared in conformity with standards previously so approved.

2