NJ Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of State’s Trespass Claim in NRD Lawsuit
On April 7, 2020, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court rendered its decision in New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Hess, A-2893-18T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. Apr. 7, 2020), one of the lawsuits in which the State of New Jersey (the “State”) is seeking to recover natural resource damages (“NRDs”). Earlier this year we flagged the Appellate Court’s opinion as one to watch in 2020, particularly with respect to how the Appellate Court would rule on the State’s ability to assert a claim for trespass over land it does not own—an issue that has divided sister trial courts. See New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Deull Fuel, No. ATL-L-1839-18 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 8, 2019) (denying motion to dismiss common law trespass claim because Public Trust Doctrine supersedes exclusivity element of trespass); New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Hess, MID-L4579-18 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Dec. 21, 2018) (granting motion to dismiss common law trespass claim because State lacked exclusive possession over the land). The Appellate Court’s unreported opinion provides clarity that despite the State’s authority under the public trust doctrine, it cannot assert a claim for trespass in the absence of exclusive possession.