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Miller v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Hudson

Decided: October 20, 1952.

MARY A. MILLER, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF ADOLPH MILLER, DECEASED, AND DOROTHY MARIE HINNERS, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF HERMAN C. HINNERS, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF THE COUNTY OF HUDSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported in 16 N.J. Super. 457.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Oliphant, Wachenfeld and Burling. For affirmance -- Justices Heher and Brennan. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J. William J. Brennan, J. (dissenting). Heher, J., concurs in this dissent.

Burling

[10 NJ Page 400] This is a suit for municipal employees' unpaid compensation. It was instituted in the Hudson County Court against the defendant Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Hudson (hereinafter referred to as Hudson County), by the plaintiffs, Mary A. Miller, administratrix of the estate of Adolph Miller, deceased, and Dorothy Marie Hinners, administratrix of the estate of Herman C. Hinners, deceased, and resulted in a judgment for the plaintiffs upon a jury verdict. The defendant Hudson County

appealed to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, which affirmed the judgment. Miller v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Hudson, 16 N.J. Super. 457 (App. Div. 1951). Thereupon the defendant petitioned this court for certification, which was allowed. 9 N.J. 178 (1952).

Adolph Miller was employed by Hudson County, as a temporary prison guard from June 8, 1931 until May 1, 1935, and as a permanent prison guard from May 1, 1935 until his death on May 6, 1939, at the Hudson County Jail. His employment was effected by appointment by the Sheriff of Hudson County. Mary A. Miller, his widow, qualified as administratrix of Adolph Miller's estate on June 14, 1949.

Herman C. Hinners was employed as a prison guard by the same county at the same jail, also having been appointed by the sheriff of the county, from June 26, 1930 until his death on January 4, 1941. Dorothy Marie Hinners, his widow, qualified as administratrix of his estate on January 10, 1941.

On March 30, 1938, chapter 54 of the Laws of 1938 (N.J.S.A. 40:21-80 now incorporated in N.J.S.A. 30:8-13.1) became law. This statute provided as follows:

"BE IT ENACTED BY THE SENATE AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY:

1. In all counties of the first class in this State the guards, keepers and industrial officers employed in the jails, houses of detention and penitentiaries shall receive the minimum compensation of two thousand dollars ($2,000.00) per annum and the maximum compensation of three thousand dollars ($3,000.00) per annum. The salaries of such employees hereafter appointed shall commence at said minimum and shall be increased two hundred dollars ($200.00) per annum for each year of service thereafter, not to exceed the maximum herein established. All such employees now in service shall on July first following the passage of this act be entitled to receive an increase of two hundred dollars ($200.00) over his or her present salary and on July first in each year thereafter shall be entitled to a further increase of two hundred dollars ($200.00) not to exceed the maximum herein established.

2. All acts or parts of acts inconsistent herewith be and the same are hereby repealed and this act shall take effect immediately."

On the effective date of the foregoing statute Adolph Miller and Herman C. Hinners were each receiving a salary of $1750 per annum and their salaries, respectively, continued at that rate until their respective deaths, no provision for the statutory salary increase being effected by Hudson County. Neither Miller nor Hinners made any demand for the statutory salary increase; both without objection signed payrolls and accepted and endorsed salary checks based upon the annual salary rate of $1750.

After the deaths of their respective decedents neither of the plaintiffs made any demand upon Hudson County for the sums allegedly due their intestates until shortly before the institution of suit. The action was initiated by complaint joined in by four plaintiffs, sub nom. Miller v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Hudson, in the Hudson County Court (Docket No. 56615) in August, 1949. The court ordered a severance of that case and directed the two plaintiffs in the present cause to file a new complaint. This was done by the plaintiffs on April 3, 1950, instituting the present action. The other two plaintiffs continued to press their action under the original complaint. The resulting judgment therein has been reviewed by this court, see Long v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Hudson, 10 N.J. 380, 91 A. 2 d 724, decided at this term, and our opinion therein is being filed concurrently herewith. Hudson County asserted several defenses to the action of plaintiffs Miller and Hinners. For the purposes of the present appeal we advert to three of those defenses, namely, waiver, laches and the six-year statute of limitation, R.S. 2:24-1. At the trial of the cause Hudson County moved for judgment in its favor, inter alia on the grounds that, as a matter of law, the action was barred by laches and by R.S. 2:24-1. The motion was denied; it was renewed at the close of the defendant's case, and again denied by the trial court. Plaintiffs then moved to strike the special defenses of laches and limitation and their motion was granted. The question of waiver was submitted to a jury, which brought in a verdict

for the plaintiffs (the amount involved had been stipulated) and judgment was entered thereon.

Hudson County appealed from the adverse judgment of the trial court, and its adverse rulings on Hudson County's motions for judgment, to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. The Appellate Division held that factually laches was absent as a matter of law, and that the defense of the statute of limitation was not available to the defendant for the reason that the plaintiffs' claims were based upon a statutory direction and therefore not barred by the asserted statute of limitation. 16 N.J. Super., at p. 461. As hereinbefore stated, Hudson County petitioned this court for certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, to review the resultant judgment of affirmance and its petition was granted, 9 N.J. 178 (1952) resulting in the present appeal.

There are two questions involved on this appeal, namely: (a) whether the six-year statute of limitation, R.S. 2:24-1, is applicable, and (b) whether the plaintiffs are in laches. We deem the first question dispositive for the reason that R.S. 2:24-1 is applicable and constitutes a bar to plaintiffs' action, and we therefore express no opinion as to the pertinency of the defense of laches under the circumstances of this case.

A statute of limitation is one of repose, the generally accepted rule here and elsewhere being that a statute of this class operates on the remedy merely and does not extinguish the right, State v. Standard Oil Co., 5 N.J. 281, 295 (1950); Chase Securities Corporation v. Donaldson, 325 U.S. 304, 65 S. Ct. 1137, 89 L. Ed. 1628 (1945). Although the fact that the practical result of the operation or application of the statute is a deprivation of the right is an accepted doctrine, State v. Standard Oil Co., supra (5 N.J., at p. 294); Moore v. State, 43 N.J.L. 203 (E. & A. 1881).

As a general rule the claim or suit must come clearly within one of the provisions of the statutes of limitation before it is barred, for such a preclusion of action may not be extended by analogy from one subject to another. 53 C.J.S.,

Limitations of Actions, sec. 33, p. 981. Compare State v. Standard Oil Co., supra (5 N.J., at pp. 299-303); Baur v. Common Pleas of Essex, 88 N.J.L. 128, 131 (Sup. Ct. 1915); ...


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