More Than Parking Tickets: Appellate Division Rules that New Jersey Municipal Courts Can Assess Civil Penalties for Spill Act Violations

Municipal courts are typically called on to rule on such matters as parking violations and speeding tickets. Some statutes, however, give them jurisdiction over a surprising variety of actions. In its published opinion in State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Alsol Corporation, the Appellate Division held that one powerful environmental law, the Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act), grants municipal courts jurisdiction to assess civil penalties for violations of the statute, even where the department has not already gone through an administrative process to assess such penalties. DEP’s complaint against Alsol arose from an October 2016 oil spill at a property it owns in Milltown. According to factual assertions made by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the spill was the result of a contractor’s faulty demolition of three electrical transformers. Oil from the transformers, later determined to contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), spilled onto the surface and into a storm drain. The oil allegedly reached Farrington Lake and may have reached Mill Pond and Lawrence Brook, which a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Fish and Wildlife Officer closed to fishing. The complaint, filed in Milltown Municipal Court, did not allege a violation of the...