On March 31, 2008, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, decided Viecelli et al. v. Planning Board of the Borough of Point Pleasant, et al., an unpublished decision. In this case, the plaintiffs constructed improvements on land for an ice cream shop after receiving site plan approvals from the planning board. After numerous inspections, the planning board’s engineers advised the municipality by letter that the plaintiffs had satisfactorily completed the project in accordance with the planning board’s resolution of approval and in reliance upon these representations the municipality issued a certificate of occupancy.

Some time later, the planning board discovered that the completed improvements differed from the approved site plans and demanded that the plaintiffs remedy all such deficiencies.The plaintiffs filed suit challenging the planning board’s decision. In addition to requests for declaratory and injunctive relief, the plaintiffs brought claims for damages under the Tort Claims Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. In response the planning board filed a claim against the plaintiffs under the Frivolous Litigation Statute and one of its members, who the plaintiffs were suing personally, brought a counterclaim alleging the plaintiffs’ facilities constituted a nuisance.

The chancery judge found, among other things, that the planning board was not estopped from requiring the plaintiffs to comply with the approved site plan despite the issuance of a certificate of occupancy and, as such, required the plaintiffs to either submit to the planning board an amended site plan application or comply with the site plan, as approved. Additionally, the chancery judge dismissed without prejudice the Tort Claims Act causes of action for failing to comply with the statute and dismissed with prejudice the Civil Rights Act claim on grounds of immunity.The chancery judge also dismissed the nuisance counterclaim and denied the planning board’s request for counsel fees under the Frivolous Litigation Statute.

 

The plaintiffs appealed from the judgment of the trial court, which the Appellate Division affirmed. In upholding the trial court’s ruling on the estoppel issue, the Court found that the plaintiffs had no grounds for reliance upon the certificate of occupancy.

Although the CO was issued by the Planning Board on their engineer’s apparently erroneous recommendation, plaintiffs did not fulfill their obligations either.  The authorizing resolution and the application for the CO specifically required plaintiffs to bring any deviations to the Planning Board’s attention, and they chose not to do so. . . . [P]laintiff’s knowledge and failure to act in accord with the resolution and the application for a CO defeats their claim of equitable estoppel.

In light of this determination, the Court concluded that the planning board “[w]ill not be barred from compelling plaintiffs to modify their completed site, or seek approval of a modified site plan, despite the issuance of a CO.”