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Township of Hopewell v. Volpe

decided: July 13, 1971.


McLaughlin and Van Dusen, Circuit Judges, and Hannum, District Judge.

Author: Mclaughlin



The Township of Hopewell, New Jersey, appeals from a decision by the United States District Court granting summary judgment. Appellant contends that the District Court erred in ruling that the plaintiff was barred by the doctrine of res judicata from proceeding in its suit against the State of New Jersey and precluded by collateral estoppel from maintaining the action against the federal defendants.

The dispute concerns the construction of Interstate Route 95*fn1 through the Township of Hopewell. I-95 enters New Jersey from the north via the George Washington Bridge, and extends westward to the eastern terminus of Interstate Route 80. From that point to the northern end of the New Jersey Turnpike, a short section of I-95 is under construction. The Turnpike, from its northern end to a point in Edison Township, N. J., is designated I-95. From there, I-95 extends westerly along Interstate Route 287 to a point in the vicinity of South Plainfield. I-95 enters New Jersey from the south via a new bridge over the Delaware River at Scudder Falls. The approaches to this bridge on the New Jersey side have been completed to Scotch Road. Thus there is at present a 32 mile gap in the New Jersey section of I-95 between its northern terminus on Interstate Route 287 in South Plainfield and its southerly terminus at Scotch Road. Hopewell Township is within that area.

The route in question is a north-south component of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, as established by the Federal Aid to Highway Act, 23 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. That Act provides a program of federal grants-in-aid (totaling 90 percent of the cost) to the states to facilitate "the prompt and early completion of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways." (23 U.S.C. §§ 101(b), 120(c)). Under the statutory scheme, the states select the routes of the system, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Transporation. (23 U.S.C. § 103(b).*fn2

In February of 1965, the New Jersey Highway Department commissioned an engineering firm to undertake a study of the various possible route alignments between Scotch Road and Interstate Route 287 through a corridor roughly bounded on the west by the Reading Railroad and the east by Route U.S. 1. This corridor is approximately 10 miles wide and 32 miles long. The purpose of the study was to determine the most feasible route through the corridor between the two designated termini which would provide the best service to the public, to industry, and to the highway users. The study was to include full consideration of all planning aspects, such as population, land use, traffic service, and the general impact of the route on the area involved. The objective of the selected alignment to be recommended was to provide the best service to the public with minimum adverse effects on the surrounding territory.

The engineering firm undertook an exhaustive analysis of the possible route alignments through the corridor, including data ranging from soil classification to anticipated future population. Meetings were held with municipal officials, local planning boards and various civic groups to discuss possible route alignment. At the conclusion of this study 34 possible route alignments had been passed upon, two of which were designated by the firm as its first and second choices respectively.

On January 12, 1966, the New Jersey Highway Department held a pre-hearing meeting during which the currently proposed route and possible alternatives were proposed. Present were the Highway Commissioner and members of the engineering consultants. Among those in attendance were various state and local officials including representatives from Hopewell Township, three of its committeemen, the Township attorney, its planning consultant and a member of its planning board. Five months later, after proper notice, the Highway Department publicly offered its proposed alignment for the location of I-95 from Scotch Road to Interstate Route 287 at a hearing on May 18, 1966, in the course of which possible alternative routes were discussed. Some 800 people were in attendance at this hearing which lasted approximately one full day. A second meeting was held on September 1, 1966.

On June 1, 1967, the State Highway Engineer submitted a letter to the Bureau of Public Roads recommending a route alignment which had been selected by the engineering firm as its alternate selection. The letter contained reasons, analyses and the criteria why this particular route was chosen. On January 26, 1968 the Bureau of Public Roads approved the alignment from Scotch Road to Route 514. The remainder was approved later.

Appellant had heretofore contested the route alignment in a suit against the New Jersey Commissioner of Transportation and the State Highway Engineer, in the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. The latter ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case; that the State had not acted arbitrarily or caprciously in choosing said route and that the federal requirements had been met with regard to it. See Township of Hopewell et al. v. Goldberg et al., 101 N.J.Super. 589, 245 A.2d 67 (App.Div.1968); cert. den. 52 N.J. 500, 246 A.2d 457 (S. Ct.1968). The appellant then brought the present claim in the United States District Court.*fn3 That court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaint on the grounds that appellant was barred by res judicata from proceeding against the state defendant and collaterally estopped from so suing the federal defendants. We agree with that decision.

Every litigant is entitled to a full and fair day in court. The reason for the development of the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel was to limit litigation and to establish finality after a person has had his day in court. The doctrine of res judicata is succinctly set forth in Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591, 597, 68 S. Ct. 715, 92 L. Ed. 898 (1948), "The rule provides that when a court of competent jurisdiction has entered a final judgment on the merits of a cause of action, the parties to the suit and their privies are thereafter bound 'not only as to every matter which was offered and received to sustain or defeat the claim or demand, but as to any other admissible matter which might have been offered for that purpose.' Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 352 [24 L. Ed. 195]. The judgment puts an end to the cause of action, which cannot again be brought into litigation between the parties upon any ground whatever, absent fraud or some other factor invalidating the judgment." The route alignment which had been advanced by the State, previously litigated, and approved by the Federal Government is once again made the issue in this new suit. We have the identical subject matter, the same parties of interest, Hopewell Township and the State, as in the previous action and the final judgment of the state court regarding the claims of these two parties. It is obvious that the state court would not allow retrial of this cause and neither will the federal courts.

Appellant contends that the district court erroneously concluded that collateral estoppel is invocable to dismiss the claim against the federal defendants. The argument made is that since the state court suit was concerned with a particular route alignment recommended by the State Engineer and the instant complaint deals with the choice of a route corridor and appellees' approval of the State's recommendation of said route, collateral estoppel cannot be called on to vitiate appellant's federal cause.

There were three separate hearings concerning the location of Route I-95. The first of these as above mentioned was on January 12, 1966. The second on May 18, 1966 and the third on September 1, 1966. At the hearing of May 18th appellant requested that the route be put in a corridor to the east in the area of the Pennsylvania Railroad. That suggestion was rejected because that area was already served by U.S. Route 1, the New Jersey Turnpike and U.S. Route 130, which provided 14 lanes of traffic; to add more lanes was soundly thought to be illogical. Also, another corridor had been previously proposed and rejected. The contention that the only corridor considered was the one taken simply does not jibe with the facts. Since ...

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