Kratovil v. Angelson

Decision Date03 August 2020
Docket NumberDOCKET NO. L-1254-18
Citation473 N.J.Super. 484,282 A.3d 651
Parties Charles J. KRATOVIL, Plaintiff, v. Mark A. ANGELSON, Gregory O. Brown, Susan M. McCue, and Sandy J. Stewart, Defendants, and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Defendant-Intervenor.
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court

473 N.J.Super. 484
282 A.3d 651

Charles J. KRATOVIL, Plaintiff,
Mark A. ANGELSON, Gregory O. Brown, Susan M. McCue, and Sandy J. Stewart, Defendants,
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Defendant-Intervenor.

DOCKET NO. L-1254-18

Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County. Civil Part.

Decided: August 3, 2020

282 A.3d 656

Flavio L. Komuves, Newark, for plaintiff.

Peter G. Verniero and Michael S. Carucci, Newark, for defendants and intervenor (Sills, Cummis & Gross, PC, attorneys).



473 N.J.Super. 494

The question presented by this litigation is whether members of the Rutgers University Board of Governors are subject to the residency requirements of the New Jersey First Act (NJFA or the Act), N.J.S.A. 52:14-7. Plaintiff Charles J. Kratovil is the editor and co-founder of New Brunswick Today, a bilingual, New Brunswick-based newspaper with a focus on community issues. His lawsuit seeks to oust four members of the Rutgers University Board of Governors who do not reside within the State of New Jersey and have not done so at any time within one year of the filing of the complaint. Under the NJFA, any person holding or attempting to hold "an office, employment, or position" with the State or an instrumentality of the State has 365 days from the date of their appointment to comply with the residency requirements of the statute. N.J.S.A. 52:14-7(a). The Act explicitly authorizes

473 N.J.Super. 495

New Jersey citizens to seek the ouster of individuals covered by the residency requirement who do not reside in the State of New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 52:14-7(d).

In their opposition to this action, defendants assert that the Act is only intended to apply to public employees who receive salaries financed with public funds. They contend that unpaid volunteer positions, such as membership on Rutgers’ Board of Governors, fall outside the scope of the statute. Defendants also contend that plaintiff's claim is time-barred under both the NJFA and R. 4:69-6 (Limitations on Bringing Certain Actions). Furthermore, defendants argue that if the court reaches

282 A.3d 657

the merits and finds that the Act applies to unpaid volunteers, the court should nonetheless deny relief to plaintiff because Rutgers has not given its consent to the application of NJFA to its Board of Governors, consent that they argue is required under the Rutgers Act, N.J.S.A. 18A:65-1 to -103. Absent such consent, defendants contend that the application of NJFA to the Board of Governors violates the corporate Charter of Rutgers and thus also violates the Contracts Clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions.

Procedural History

Plaintiff Charles Kratovil filed a pro se complaint on June 11, 2018, against Mark A. Angelson, Gregory Brown, Susan McCue, Joseph Rigby, and Sandy J. Stewart, contending that they, as members of the Board of Governors of Rutgers University, were illegally acting in that capacity in violation of NJFA. He contended that, at least for the year before the filing of the complaint, defendants had failed to have their principal residences in New Jersey. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 52:14-7(d), Mr. Kratovil sought to oust each of the defendants from the Rutgers Board of Governors. Following the filing of the complaint, Joseph Rigby resigned from the Board of Governors and has not participated in this litigation. By order of August 6, 2018, the court dismissed Mr. Rigby as a defendant.

Defendants promptly filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on July 17, 2018, asserting improper service of process, though the

473 N.J.Super. 496

court denied that motion on August 3, 2018. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, filed a motion to intervene as a defendant on September 9, 2018, which was granted on October 2, 2018. Plaintiff thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment on December 18, 2018, which was opposed by defendants, who also filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on January 25, 2019. In the process of briefing the legal issues raised by the parties, plaintiff retained counsel and has since been represented by Flavio Komuves, Esq. Both motions for summary judgment are decided in this opinion.

The New Jersey First Act and the History of State Residency Requirements in New Jersey

Re-styled the "New Jersey First Act" in 2011, the Act represented a significant expansion of New Jersey's residency requirement for public officials and employees. Apparently responding to a concern about the State's slow recovery from the recession of 2008 and a desire to increase employment opportunities for New Jersey residents, Governor's Veto Message to S. 1730 (2010), the Legislature amended the Act to cover "[e]very person holding an office, employment, or position" in state or local government, including school districts. N.J.S.A. 52:14-7(a). See also Jason Rindosh, Comment, Continuing Residency Requirements: Questioning Burdens on Public Employment in New Jersey, 42 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1635, 1641-43 (2012).

Originally applied to "every person holding office in this state," this definition in earlier iterations of the residency statute proved imprecise and difficult to apply over time. The first major expansion of the statute came following the 1986 reconfirmation debate over the residency of then-Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz. See Joseph F. Sullivan, Uncompromising Jersey Chief Justice, N.Y. Times, Aug. 2, 1986. Following the pledge of Chief Justice Wilentz to reside in New Jersey, the State Legislature quickly moved to amend the residency statute so that it explicitly applied to the Governor, members of the Legislature, and the head of each principal department of the Executive Branch, as well as to every

473 N.J.Super. 497

Justice of the Supreme Court, every judge of the Superior Court,

282 A.3d 658

and every judge of any inferior court established under the laws of this state.

Following the financial recession of 2008, the New Jersey Legislature proposed a comprehensive residency requirement effectively mandating that almost all public employees in New Jersey live in the state as a condition of their employment, unless they were grandfathered or exempted for hardship reasons. See, e.g., A. 2515 (2008) (introduced on March 8, 2008, the bill was later combined with A. 3808 and adopted on January 4, 2010). After analogous legislation was approved by the Senate in 2010, Governor Christie signed NJFA into law on March 17, 2011, following a conditional veto providing that the committee overseeing applications for hardship exemptions from the residency requirement be expanded from three to five persons, a condition the Legislature then endorsed. The Act took effect on September 1, 2011. L. 2011, c. 70, § 3.

I. Plaintiff's Complaint is Timely under Both the NJFA and R. 4 - 69 -6(a).

Defendants contend that the complaint must be dismissed as untimely filed. They assert that the filing complied neither with the statute of limitations contained in the Act at N.J.S.A. 52:14-7(d), nor with R. 4:69-6(a), which establishes a forty-five day statute of limitations for the filing of actions in lieu of prerogative writ. Determining whether a cause of action is barred by a statute of limitations is a question of law for adjudication by the trial court. Henry v. N.J. Dep't of Hum. Servs., 204 N.J. 320, 330, 9 A.3d 882 (2010) ; Estate of Hainthaler v. Zurich Com. Ins., 387 N.J. Super. 318, 325, 903 A.2d 1103 (App. Div. 2006). Here, plaintiff has asserted causes of action arising under both N.J.S.A. 52:14-7(d) and R. 4:69-6(c). Satisfaction of the statute of limitations for either claim will allow the case to proceed on the merits. Save Camden Pub. Schs. v. Camden City Bd. of Educ., 454 N.J. Super. 478, 488, 186 A.3d 304 (App. Div. 2018). Considering the statute of limitations

473 N.J.Super. 498

under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2(a), as well as the forty-five day period for filing an action in lieu of prerogative writ, R. 4:69-6(a), the court in Save Camden held that a favorable ruling on either statute of limitations defense would "afford plaintiffs the right to proceed with the merits of their substantive relief." 454 N.J. Super. at 488, 186 A.3d 304.

A. Statute of Limitations under N.J.S.A. 52:14-7

To bring a valid complaint against a New Jersey public employee, position holder, or office holder for failure to comply with the State's residency requirements, a claim must comply with the statute of limitations of N.J.S.A. 52:14-7(d) :

Any person holding or attempting to hold an office, employment, or position in violation of this section shall be considered as illegally holding or attempting to hold the same; provided that a person holding an office, employment, or position in this State shall have one year from the time of taking the office, employment, or position to satisfy the requirement of principal residency, and if

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