Contracts and Criminal Liability (Part 5)

by | Oct 26, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Judge Vernoia continued: The Legislature, however, did not similarly adopt a definition of the term “contract” for application to the other governmental entities that were the subject of the legislation. Thus, the Legislature demonstrated it would expressly provide a definition of the term where it intended for it to apply, and otherwise relied upon the ordinary usage of the term under N.J.S.A. 1:1-1, where reliance on a specific definition was not intended.

The Legislature did not define the term “contract” in N.J.S.A. 2C:21-34(b). Although the Legislature adopted specific definitions of the term elsewhere in the statue, it elected not to provide a definition of the term in N.J.S.A. 2C:21-34(b). If the Legislature intended to limit the meaning of the term contract in to only procurement contracts for the sale of goods and services to vendors, it would have done so as it did under the Local Public Contracts Law and Public Schools Contracts Law. “When the Legislature expressly includes a requirement in one section and excludes that same requirement in other subsections of the same general statute, we need not strain to import that requirement where it is not.” We therefore conclude the Legislature did not intend to incorporate the definition of contract it expressly adopted for the Local Public Contracts Law and Public Schools Contracts Law, or apply any meaning to the term contract other than that of its ordinary usage. When we apply the ordinary usage of the term, we are satisfied the ACO is a government contract.

We also reject the contention and court’s conclusion that the contracts covered by N.J.S.A. 2C:21-34 must be procurement contracts for goods and services from a vendor because the grading of the offense under the statute is dependent upon the “contract amount.” Although not a typical procurement contract where a direct purchase of goods and services is made by a governmental entity, it is error to conclude the ACO did not include a contract amount. Under the terms of the ACO, defendants agreed to remediate the Fenimore Landfill in exchange for NJDEP approvals and permission for defendants to operate and generate revenue at the site. In addition, the ACO included a contract amount – the millions of dollars defendants agreed to deposit in an escrow account to be used for the required remediation of the property. To suggest or conclude otherwise is to ignore the contractual arrangement set forth in the ACO. Thus, the ACO included a contract amount, and N.J.S.A. 2C:21-34(b)’s grading provisions are not inconsistent with the conclusion that the ACO is a “government contract” under the statute. The court erred in finding otherwise.

We reverse the dismissal of count one. We also reverse the dismissal of count three because its dismissal was based in part on the dismissal of count one.

This case demonstrates the difficulties that trial judges face in deciding novel issues. The parties below never brief the issues in the detail that is required by the appellate division. Moreover, they do not have the resources of the appellate division with regard to multiple judges, multiple law clerks, and amicus.