Source: http://www.nj.com, May 26, 2016
By: Rebecca Forand
An appeals court has set aside the majority of rulings against the township stemming from the case of a contaminated thermometer plant that later became a daycare center.
The location was previously the Accutherm thermometer plant from 1984 to 1994 and mercury contamination concerns arose in the late 1980s.
After more than a decade of tax sales, foreclosures and bankruptcy, the area was used as Kiddie Kollege — a daycare center housing children from eight months to 13 years old — before the Department of Environmental Protection shut the center down due to the mercury contamination.
A class action lawsuit brought on behalf of the children who attended and the adults who worked or visited Kiddie Kollege asked for a court administered medical monitoring fund, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. It alleged that the township, its construction zoning official, the county and the past and present owners of the site were all liable in the case.
A trial judge originally found for the plaintiffs, however a recent appeal filed by the township overturned that ruling for Franklin Township and its construction official.
The initial trial judge ruled that Franklin Township was negligent in allowing a construction and zoning permit to be issued at the contaminated site, as its officials were aware of the previous issues.
In a decision published Thursday, however, a three-judge panel overturned that ruling, saying the township was not legally liable, saying as a government agency, it is immune in this case.
As the property was contaminated for more than a decade and had been abandoned, it was up to the property owners to disclose that information.
“The property did not present an immediate threat about which the township had a duty to warn the public,” the court wrote.
This is the latest in a long saga of court decisions regarding Kiddie Kollege. Just last month, the 10-year-long fight over who would have to pay to clean up the site was finally decided when a Supreme Court decision affirmed a lower court ruling putting the onus on the owners of the property.