On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division.
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Jacobs. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Wachenfeld, J.
This is an action for damages by reason of the breach of an alleged contract for life employment.
The plaintiff entered the employ of the defendant company in 1917. During the year 1925 the company fielded a baseball team in the Industrial Twilight League. The plaintiff at the time was a labor foreman in charge of one of the defendant's receiving departments and was engaged as a player on the company team. The team was maintained for advertising purposes and the company purchased the equipment and uniforms and paid the necessary expenses.
In 1929 a Mr. Weed, secretary and second vice-president of the company in charge of sales and advertising, called the plaintiff to his office and asked him to become manager of the baseball team. The plaintiff assented. Before the playing season opened in that year, Weed again spoke to the plaintiff complaining of the lack of experienced players and asked him actively to participate in the games as a catcher. The latter demurred on the ground he was getting too old and didn't "feel as if I could get out there physically." He stated he had just come out of the hospital and asked what would happen to him if he should get hurt. Weed reportedly answered: "If you get hurt I will take care of you. You will have a foreman's job the rest of your life." The plaintiff alleges Weed specified the job as "the one I had, the one I earned."
This agreement was never reduced to writing and, Mr. Weed having since died, the proof of it rests on the testimony of the plaintiff.
During the 1929 baseball season, while playing in one of the games, the plaintiff sustained leg injuries resulting in osteomyelitis. Several operations ensued but an arthritic condition developed which finally necessitated the amputation of the knee cap. By 1939 the knee joint had fused to the extent the plaintiff has since been unable to bend or flex it.
While the plaintiff was confined to his home following the injury, Weed visited him and in the presence of his wife stated: "I told you not to worry. You will have your foreman's job there as long as you live."
Despite his injury, the plaintiff continued in the employ of the defendant for 21 years until April 1, 1950, when he was notified by letter the employment was terminated. The letter, enclosing a check for $3,000 less federal income tax withheld, stated this amount represented
"a payment being made to you in connection with the termination of your employment on March 31, 1950, by this Company. This payment is made to you not only in recognition of your many years of faithful service to the Company, but also because the Company desires to have available to it in the future the benefit of your experience and of your knowledge of its affairs which you have acquired from your long association with it. You may be sure that, although we may seek your advice from time to time, we shall not make unreasonable requests."
The plaintiff accepted and cashed the check.
This action was brought demanding reinstatement of the plaintiff to his former position and monetary damages. By a subsequent order entered with the consent of all parties, the demand for reinstatement was dropped and the complaint restricted to a suit for money damages.
The plaintiff demanded a jury trial and the defendant countered with a motion for summary judgment under Rule 3:56 on the ground there was no genuine issue as to any material fact. The trial court granted the defendant's
motion, holding that even if the contract and Weed's authority to bind the corporation to it were admitted, nevertheless the damages were uncertain and unliquidated and the acceptance of the sum of $3,000 was, under these circumstances, tantamount to and operated as an accord and satisfaction, precluding the maintenance of the action. The ...