Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 19, 2018

NJ Appeals Court Reverses Dismissal of Disqualifying Interest Claim Against Town Council Member

This post was authored by Touro Law student Aisha Scholes ‘20 

The Township of Bloomfield adopted Ordinance 3729, which appropriated $10,500,000 for the acquisition and improvement of a tract of land to be used as a public park, and authorized the issuance of $9,975,000 in Township bonds or notes to finance part of the cost. The subject property had previously been approved by the Township Planning Board for construction of a 104-unit townhouse development known as Lion Gate. The Ordinance was first introduced at a meeting chaired by defendant Nicholas Joanow, a Township Councilman, who owned a home that directly bordered the property. Joanow also cast the deciding vote approving the Ordinance. Plaintiffs Russell Mollica, James Wollner, Ray McCarthy, and Chris Stanziale, a group of Township residents, challenged the validity of the Ordinance and sought to enjoin the Township from issuing the bonds, alleging that Joanow had a disqualifying interest when he voted on the Ordinance. The trial court dismissed the neighbors’ claims. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that Joanow should have recused himself from participating in any of the proceedings that led to the passage of the bond ordinance due to his ownership interest in property adjacent to the proposed public park that created a legally insurmountable conflict of interest. Defendants responded that Council member Joanow was “set to gain no more than all the residents of the Township who will benefit from the creation of the public park and maintenance of open space.” The court found that Joanow had a direct personal interest since he owned property directly abutting the Lion Gate site. The court held that his ownership of property immediately adjacent to the Lion Gate site was sufficient in itself to disqualify him from voting on the Ordinance. Furthermore, since the disqualifying interest of Joanow was in its subject matter of the Ordinance, the court found that the remedy was to invalidate the Ordinance.

Mollica v. Township of Bloomfield, 2016 WL 6068242 (NJ App. 10/2016), cert den. 2017 WL 658259 (NJ 2/13/2017)

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