The opinion of the Court was delivered by JACOBS, J.
The Chancery Division dismissed the plaintiff's complaint for lack of standing. An appeal was taken to the Appellate Division and we certified before argument there.
The plaintiff Association is a nonprofit organization which was incorporated in 1969 pursuant to the terms of N.J.S.A. 15:1-1 et seq. It was created for the protection and mutual benefit of the tenants residing in the Crescent Apartment House located at 320 South Harrison Street, East Orange. Its membership consists of a substantial majority of the tenants and it has undertaken to represent them with respect to their common grievances against their landlord the defendant R.E. Matawan Corp. and its parent company the defendant Realty Equities Corp. of New York.
The Crescent Apartment House is a high-rise luxury apartment with 252 residential units including several professional and business suites. The monthly rentals range between $285 and $700 per month for 1, 2 and 3 bedroom
The complaint prays for injunctive relief, for the appointment of a rent receiver, for an accounting, and for such other equitable relief as may be just and proper. Affidavits accompanying the complaint verified its allegations in detail. Answering affidavits, referring to corrective action which has been taken and denying the allegations of mismanagement, were filed on behalf of the defendants who moved for an order dismissing the complaint on the ground that the plaintiff Association had no interest in the matter and no standing to sue. After considering briefs and hearing argument, the Chancery Division judge dismissed the complaint on the stated ground. He did not pass on the merits and the single issue presented by the parties on appeal is whether he erred in his holding that the Association had no legal or equitable standing to maintain an action based on the alleged wrongful conduct set forth in the complaint. Compare
The New Jersey cases have historically taken a much more liberal approach on the issue of standing than have the federal cases. See Walker, Inc. v. Stanhope, 23 N.J. 657 (1957); Jaffe, supra at 535-36. However, in the isolated case of New Jersey Bankers Association v. Van Riper, supra, upon which the defendants and the Chancery Division judge placed reliance, this Court denied standing to an association of bankers, citing only Farmers Co-op. Oil Co. v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 133 F.2d 101 (8 Cir. 1942), a case which has been criticized or departed from in several later cases (Smith v. Board of Education of Morrilton Sch. Dist. No. 32, 365 F.2d 770 (8 Cir. 1966); Noerr Motor Frgt., Inc. v. Eastern Railroad Presidents Conf., 273 F.2d 218 (3 Cir. 1959), rev'd on other grounds, 365 U.S. 127, 81 S.Ct. 523, 5 L.Ed.2d 464 (1961); Cooperative De Seguros Multiples De Puerto Rico v. San Juan, 294 F.Supp. 638 (D.P.R. 1968)) and which has probably been swept away by the recent Supreme Court decisions broadening the federal approach to standing. See Hardin v. Kentucky Utilities Co., 390 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 651, 19 L.Ed.2d 787 (1968); Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 (1968); Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 90 S.Ct. 827, 25 L.Ed.2d 184 (1970); Barlow v. Collins, 397 U.S. 159, 90 S.Ct. 832, 25 L.Ed. 2d 192 (1970); Davis, Administrative Law, Ch. 22, p. 702 (1970 Supp); Jaffe, "Standing Again," 84 Harv. L. Rev. 633 (1971); Hennigan, "The Essence of Standing: The Basis of a Constitutional Right to be Heard," 10
In Flast the Supreme Court upheld a federal taxpayer's standing to maintain an action to enjoin expenditures of federal funds under a statute which allegedly conflicted with the establishment and free exercise clauses of the first amendment. 392 U.S. at 85, 88 S.Ct. at 1945, 20 L.Ed.2d at 953. So far as our own State doctrine is concerned, the standing of a taxpayer to attack illegal disbursements of public funds or other illegal official action has been long and firmly established. See Ferry v. Williams, 41 N.J.L. 332, 337 (Sup. Ct. 1879); Haines v. Burlington County Bridge Commission, 1 N.J.Super. 163, 170-173 (App. Div. 1949); Piscitelli v. Tp. Committee of Tp. of Scotch Plains, 103 N.J.Super. 589, 593 (Law Div. 1968). However in Frothingham v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447, 43 S.Ct. 597, 67 L.Ed. 1078 (1923), the Supreme Court dismissed, for lack of standing, a federal taxpayer's suit challenging the constitutionality of the statute commonly called the Maternity Act. In Flast the Supreme Court departed from Frothingham's restrictive approach to standing, at least in cases where the taxpayer specifically alleges that "congressional action under the taxing and spending clause is in derogation of those constitutional provisions which operate to restrict the exercise of the taxing and spending power." 392 U.S. at 106, 88 S.Ct. at 1955, 20 L.Ed.2d at 965.
In Data Processing the plaintiffs, sellers of data processing services to businesses generally, challenged a ruling by the Comptroller of the Currency which permitted national banking institutions to make their data processing services available to other banks and their customers. The District Court dismissed the action for lack of standing and this was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. However, the Supreme Court reversed in an opinion by Justice Douglas which held that the plaintiffs had standing since (1) they alleged that the challenged action had caused them "injury in fact,
In Barlow the Supreme Court upheld the standing of tenant farmers to challenge certain regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Agriculture. The tenants alleged that they had suffered injury in fact and, as the opinion of Justice Douglas pointed out, there was no doubt that they had "the personal stake and interest that impart the concrete adverseness" called for by the case or controversy requirement of Article III of the Constitution. 397 U.S. at 164, 90 S.Ct. at 836, 25 L.Ed.2d at 198. However, as in Data Processing, the Court found additionally that the plaintiffs were within "the zone of interests protected by the Act," and Justices Brennan and White expressed their view that that finding was wholly unnecessary. 397 U.S. at 173, 90 S.Ct. at 841, 25 L.Ed.2d at 203. They reiterated what was said in Flast, and earlier in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204, 82 S.Ct. 691, 703, 7 L.Ed.2d 663, 678 (1962), that "the gist of the question of standing" is simply whether the party seeking relief has "alleged such a personal stake in the outcome
In Scenic Hudson the Second Circuit sustained the standing of the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference, an unincorporated association consisting of a number of nonprofit conservationist organizations, to attack an order of the Federal Power Commission authorizing the construction of a hydro-electric project on the west side of the Hudson River at Storm King Mountain in Cornwall, New York. In response to the Commission's fear that recognition of the plaintiff's standing would encourage "literally thousands" to intervene in future proceedings, the court noted that it saw "no such horrendous possibilities" and that its experience confirmed "that the expense and vexation of legal proceedings is not lightly undertaken." 354 F.2d at 617. The court noted further that "representation of common interests by an organization such as Scenic Hudson serves to limit the number of those who might otherwise apply for intervention and serves to expedite the administrative process." 354 F.2d at 617. In the United Church case the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that representatives of the listening public have standing to intervene in proceedings seeking to renew a broadcasting license. The court pointed out that "since the concept of standing is a practical and functional one designed to insure that only those
The liberalized federal approach to standing has had considerable impact in representational actions by associations of taxpayers, conservationists, tenants, homeowners and the like. In National Association of Letter Carriers v. Blount, 305 F.Supp. 546 (D.D.C. 1969), appeal dismissed, 400 U.S. 801, 91 S.Ct. 7, 27 L.Ed.2d 33 (1970), the court pointed out that the strict view there advanced by the Government on the standing issue ignored the trend of courts "increasingly to recognize the standing of associations to raise in some circumstances the rights of their members"; in sustaining the plaintiff's standing, the court stressed pragmatically that the association had "sufficient interest in this litigation to pursue the matter vigorously and is in a position to bring the issues into sharp focus," citing Flast v. Cohen, supra, 392 U.S. 83, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 20 L.Ed.2d 947. 305 F. Supp. at 548. In Citizens Association of Georgetown v. Simonson, 131 U.S. App. D.C. 152, 403 F.2d 175 (D.C. Cir. 1968), cert. denied, 3259 M Street, Inc. v. Citizens Ass'n of Georgetown, 394 U.S. 975, 89 S.Ct. 1454, 22 L.Ed.2d 755 (1969), interested nearby homeowners objected to the renewal of a liquor license and appealed to the court through their association, a nonprofit corporation; the Court of Appeals held that "since the association is an authorized spokesman organized to promote these interests for its individual members, it too has standing to sue in order to protect their interests." 403 F.2d at 176.
The standing of nonprofit associations to litigate in varying contexts has been upheld in recent federal decisions. See Environmental Defense Fund, Incorporated v. Hardin, 138 U.S. App. D.C. 391, 428 F.2d 1093, 1096-1097 (D.C. Cir. 1970); Citizens Committee for Hudson Valley v. Volpe, 425 F.2d 97, 102-105 (2 Cir.), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 949, 91 S.Ct. 237, 27 L.Ed.2d 256 (1970); Izaak Walton League
One additional federal decision is worthy of mention before we come to a discussion of our own New Jersey precedents. In Scanwell Laboratories, Inc. v. Shaffer, 137 U.S. App. D.C. 371, 424 F.2d 859 (D.C. Cir. 1970), the court held that a bidder had standing to attack the Federal Aviation Administration's award of the contract to another whose bid was allegedly illegal. In the course of a comprehensive opinion, Judge Tamm reviewed the complexities and
Unlike the Federal Constitution, there is no express language in New Jersey's Constitution which confines the exercise of our judicial power to actual cases and controversies. U.S. Const. art. III, § 2; N.J. Const. art. VI, § 1. Nevertheless we will not render advisory opinions or function in the abstract (New Jersey Turnpike Authority v. Parsons, 3 N.J. 235, 240 (1949)) nor will we entertain proceedings by plaintiffs who are "mere intermeddlers" (Baxter v. Baxter, 43 N.J. Eq. 82, 86 (Ch. 1887), aff'd, 44 N.J. Eq. 298 (E. & A. 1888)), or are merely interlopers or strangers to the dispute (Bergen County v. Port of New York Authority et al., 32 N.J. 303, 307, 318 (1960)). Without ever becoming enmeshed in the federal complexities and technicalities, we have appropriately confined litigation to those situations where the litigant's concern with the subject matter evidenced a sufficient stake and real adverseness. In the overall we have given due weight to the interests
Walker, Inc. v. Stanhope, supra, 23 N.J. 657, well illustrates the foregoing and New Jersey's broad treatment of the standing issue. There the Borough of Stanhope adopted an ordinance which restricted the use of trailers within its borders. The plaintiff was a retail seller of trailer homes with a place of business in Roxbury Township, about four miles from Stanhope. Alleging that he was harmed by the ordinance, he brought an action to have it declared illegal but his action was dismissed in the trial court for lack of standing. This Court reinstated the action in an opinion which noted that in determining a plaintiff's standing "the court is properly required to balance conflicting considerations and weigh questions of remoteness and degree." 23 N.J. at 661. Referring to the substantial nature of the interference with the plaintiff's business and the serious legal questions raised, we held that, in the interests of the public as well as the plaintiff, the ultimate merits should "be passed upon without undue delay." 23 N.J. at 666. The Borough's spectre of "a flood of litigation" resulting from liberalized rules of standing (23 N.J. at 666) was given short shrift and experiences to date have given us ample reassurance.
No one before us questions the tenants' stake and adverseness and admittedly there would have been no attack on standing if individual tenants had joined in the complaint. However they understandably chose to act instead entirely through their Association which was formed to help balance the bargaining power of the landlord and to enable them to deal from a position of strength with the acknowledged strength of their landlord. See Bazarko, "Tenant Unions: Legal Rights of Members," 18 Cleveland State L.
It must be borne in mind that the complaint of the Crescent Park Tenants Association is confined strictly to matters of common interest and does not include any individual grievance which might perhaps be dealt with more appropriately in a proceeding between the individual tenant and the landlord. So far as the common grievances are concerned they may readily and indeed more appropriately be dealt with in a proceeding between the Association, on the one hand, and the landlord, on the other, thus incidentally avoiding the procedural burdens accompanying multiple party litigation. Surely, technisms aside, no one may question that the Association has a real stake in the outcome of the litigation nor may anyone question that there is real adverseness in the proceeding. All that being so, it is difficult to conceive of any policy consideration or any consideration of justice which would fairly preclude the Association from maintaining, on behalf of its member tenants, the present proceeding between itself as plaintiff and the landlord and its parent company as defendants.
Both our statutes and appellate decisions have given wide recognition to suits by associations. Nonprofit corporations,
In New Jersey State Bar Association v. Northern New Jersey Mortgage Associates, supra, this Court took the position that, although the individual lawyer-plaintiffs might not have standing to enjoin the defendants' unlawful practice of law, the plaintiff State Bar Association, along with County Bar Associations, had such standing. 22 N.J. at 196. In Hudson Bergen County Retail Liquor Stores Association v. Hoboken, supra, 135 N.J.L. 502, the plaintiff Association complained about the propriety of the issuance of certain liquor licenses. None of the individual members of the Association was joined as a party and an attack was made on the standing of the Association as such. The attack was rejected by the former Court of Errors and Appeals and there was a similar rejection by this Court in Greenspan v. Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, supra, 12 N.J. 456.
The only pertinent appellate departure (cf. New Jersey Used Car Trade Association v. Magee, 1 N.J.Super. 371 (Ch. Div. 1948); but cf. Newark Twentieth Century Taxicab
For reversal — Justices JACOBS, FRANCIS, PROCTOR, HALL and SCHETTINO — 5.
For affirmance — None.