Landowners Thomas and Carol Griepenburg challenged the validity of a series of ordinances enacted by the Township of Ocean. The ordinances at issue rezoned a large tract of land, including most of plaintiffs’ property, from residential and commercial use to an Environmental Conservation district, thereby restricting future development of their property. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs’ challenge and determined that the ordinances were a valid exercise of municipal zoning power and were not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. The court rejected plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge, and it granted summary judgment to the Township on plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claim because plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies by seeking a variance. The Appellate Division then reversed, concluding that the ordinances were invalid as applied to plaintiffs’ property.
At the onset, the court noted that there is a strong presumption favoring the requirement of exhaustion of remedies; however exceptions are made when the administrative remedies would be futile, when irreparable harm would result, when jurisdiction of the agency is doubtful, or when an overriding public interest calls for a prompt judicial decision. Landowners challenging the validity of a municipal ordinance as to their property should normally first seek a variance in accordance with these principles, and here past events or other circumstances did not make it clear that initial or further resort to the local administrative process would be futile. Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiffs should have first sought a variance before pursuing either an as-applied challenge or an inverse condemnation claim because none of the exceptions to the exhaustion doctrine apply. The trial court’s holding in favor of the Township was therefore reinstated.
Griepenburg v. Twp. of Ocean, 2015 WL 263913 (N.J. 1/22/2015)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/A-55-13Griepenburg.pdf