United States: Recent NJ Opinion Favors Run-Down Health Care Facility

Last Updated: December 24 2013
Article by John L. Grossman

A New Jersey Superior Court judge recently authored an opinion favoring the continued operation of a run-down health care facility, which serves as a great primer on the law surrounding zoning challenges and State preemption of local zoning ordinances.  In Mazel, LLC, et al., v. Township of Toms River, Dover Woods Healthcare Center, et al¹, The plaintiffs, owners of a Ramada Inn in Toms River, New Jersey, filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs asserting that the conditional use giving rise to the original zoning approval of a neighboring facility known as Dover Woods no longer existed, that the facility operated as a non-permitted use within the zone, and that the owners must be restrained from continuing its current use until they obtained the necessary approval as a permitted use.  The plaintiffs also sought to compel the defendant Township to require Dover Woods to comply with all, applicable Township land use ordinances and the terms and conditions of the original Planning Board approving resolution, issued in 1983. 

The facts are essentially as follows:  Dover Woods is located in the Rural Highway Business (RHB) zone.  Dover Woods, initially known as the Dover Retirement Hotel, was built approximately thirty years ago and was designed with hotel specifications.  Hotels were permitted in the RHB zone as a conditional use in 1983 when the Planning Board approved the development as a hotel and a state-licensed, residential health care facility (RHCF).  Dover Woods continues to be licensed by New Jersey and is subject to the regulations of the Department of Community Affairs. 

The 1983 Planning Board resolution recited the facts that:  the developer proposed to construct a 136 unit hotel containing 240 beds on approximately six acres; the hotel was to provide dining and kitchen facilities not open to the general public, with additional indoor and outdoor recreational facilities and transportation amenities; and, the typical hotel guests were anticipated to be elderly, non-working, living on a fixed income, spouseless and, in many instances, with no family or with few visitors.  The facility was not constructed under hospital or nursing home specifications, but rather was built to hotel specifications, although licensed by New Jersey at all times since its construction as an RHCF. 

In 1991, the Township amended its zoning ordinance to expand the permitted uses in the RHB zone to include both "medical services facilities" and "hotels."  As noted, hotels were previously permitted as conditional uses, only; medical services facilities were neither permitted uses nor conditional uses prior to the 1991 amendment. 

In short, the facility has become exceedingly run-down, and its guests have often been found wandering about aimlessly in public, causing significant disturbances and burdening emergency services.  Based upon these conditions, the plaintiffs argued that the Ramada Inn hotel business has suffered and sought injunctive relief.  The current owner of the facility filed motions for summary judgment on all counts of the complaint.  The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Dover Woods on virtually all counts for the following reasons. 

The Court interpreted the Township's zoning ordinance to find that Dover Woods operated both as a hotel and a medical services facility, thus constituting two permitted uses within the RHB zone.  In so doing, the Court analyzed the judicial function.  While courts must construe zoning ordinances reasonably and liberally in favor of a municipality, mindful of any apparent legislative purpose or intent, they must construe restrictive zoning regulations in favor of a property owner because they limit property rights.  Accordingly, courts may not infer restrictions beyond the clear and unequivocal language of a restrictive zoning ordinance.  With those principles in mind, the Court found that Dover Woods constituted a hotel within the meaning of the applicable zoning ordinance.  Simply, the facility as constructed met the definitional requirements.  The Court also found that Dover Woods' status as an RHCF did not affect its status as a hotel, the two not being mutually exclusive.  The Court then found that Dover Woods operated as a medical services facility within the definition of the ordinance, a broad category that included long-term, RHCFs, acknowledging that it must construe the definition of a medical services facility in favor of Dover Woods' use.  In the absence of clear restrictive language, the Court could not infer that the drafters of the zoning ordinance intended to prohibit residential health care facilities in the RHB zone.  Accordingly, the Court felt that its proper inquiry was not whether the zoning ordinance's definition for medical services facilities permitted residential health care facilities, but rather whether it clearly prohibited them.  Finding nothing prohibitive, the Court construed the zoning ordinance to permit Dover Woods' use of the property as a state-licensed, RHCF and, in turn, as a medical services facility, a permitted use². 

The 1983 Planning Board resolution contained standards for the developer's operation of the facility higher than those required by State regulations.  As a result, the plaintiffs sought to have the Township require the facility to comply with those higher standards.  The Court denied that application, stating that a municipality, as an agent of the State, cannot act contrary to the State and cannot forbid what a State statute permits.  Municipalities can exercise zoning power only through delegation of the State's authority, and they must consider the welfare of all of the State's citizens, not just the interests of the inhabitants in the particular locality.  State preemption occurs when the legislature regulates a field so extensively and comprehensively that it evinces an intent to preclude concurrent municipal regulation of the same field.  The Court considered the five factor test articulated by the state Supreme Court (not recited here), applied it to the facts, and found State preemption based upon the field of regulations governing the operation of RHCFs.  Accordingly, the Court found that, to require literal compliance with the 1983 Planning Board resolution, would effectively impose more stringent municipal regulations on Dover Woods than those imposed by existing State regulations.  It declined to compel the Township, despite the plaintiffs' arguments to the contrary, to interfere with Dover Woods' operations through literal enforcement of the 1983
Planning Board resolution, finding that to be an intrusion upon the State's regulatory authority.  

In conclusion, the Court acknowledged the problems experienced by both the Township and local businesses as the result of the behavior of some of the "guests" at Dover Woods.  However, since the plaintiffs' action was brought as a zoning challenge, it involved questions of law.  The Court left open the option for the State, in a separate administrative action, to impose penalties on Dover Woods to force compliance with licensure requirements, if those requirements have been violated.  

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

John L. Grossman
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions