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Mulhearn v. Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co.

Decided: June 13, 1949.

DANIEL MULHEARN, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
FEDERAL SHIPBUILDING AND DRY DOCK COMPANY, RESPONDENT-PETITIONER



On petition for certification to the Workmen's Compensation Division of the Department of Labor and Industry.

For denial -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Case, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Ackerson. For granting -- Justice Heher. The opinion of the court was delivered by Vanderbilt, C.J.

Vanderbilt

The respondent, Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, petitioned for certification to the Division of Workmen's Compensation of the Department of Labor and Industry to review a judgment granting compensation to Daniel Mulhearn, the petitioner below. The petition for certification disclosed that Mulhearn, an employee of the respondent, was injured in an accident arising out of and during the course of his employment while working aboard the United States Army transport General Rose. He filed a petition for compensation with the former Workmen's Compensation Bureau and compensation was allowed by its successor, the Division of Workmen's Compensation of the Department of Labor and Industry. It appears that between January, 1947, and January, 1949, the General Rose, as well as a similar ship, the General Hatch, was sent to the ship-yards of the respondent for conversion and change of accommodations from wartime naval transport to peacetime army transport. The conversion work was done upon both vessels while they were moored in the Hackensack River alongside a dock at the respondent's shipyards. During the performance of the work numerous employees of the respondent were injured as a result of which approximately 175 petitions for compensation have been filed with the former Workmen's Compensation Bureau and numerous others have been filed with the Federal Security Agency under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act (33 U.S.C., § 901).

The respondent raised the defense below that the injuries received by the petitioner, Mulhearn, were compensable only under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act and that the Workmen's Compensation Division lacked jurisdiction to award compensation under the New Jersey Workmen's Compensation Act. This defense was overruled by the Division of Workmen's Compensation and the respondent below sought

certification primarily to determine this jurisdictional question, which it asserts is a substantial question arising under the Constitution and statutes of both the United States and this State, the determination of which will affect a large number of other cases now pending.

This court, doubting its jurisdiction to certify a cause from the Division of Workmen's Compensation, requested briefs and oral argument. Article VI, section V, paragraph 1, of the Constitution of 1947 reads:

"1. Appeals may be taken to the Supreme Court: * * *

"(d) On certification by the Supreme Court to the Superior Court and, where provided by rules of the Supreme Court, to the County Courts and the inferior courts * * *."

Our Rules provide for certification only to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, Rule 1:5-2, and "to the trial courts," Rule 1:5-3.

The question is thus squarely raised whether or not the Division of Workmen's Compensation is an inferior court within the meaning of the Constitution so that we may review its judgments directly by certification.

To determine the position of the Division of Workmen's Compensation in the state government it is necessary to trace its history and to examine its functions. The Department of Labor was created by P.L. 1904, c. 64, p. 152, which authorized the Governor to appoint a commissioner of labor subject to confirmation by the Senate. In 1911 the Workmen's Compensation Act was passed, P.L. 1911, c. 95, p. 134, and at first claims for compensation were adjudicated by the judges of the Court of Common Pleas, idem., § 18. In 1916 the Department of Labor was reorganized with departmental bureaus, P.L. 1916, c. 40, p. 67, and, by another act of the same year, P.L. 1916, c. 54, p. 97, a Workmen's Compensation Aid Bureau was established within the department. Under it the commissioner of labor was charged ...


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