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Reeves v. City of Jersey City

Decided: May 5, 1954.

ELIZABETH M. REEVES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF JERSEY CITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Clapp, Goldmann and Ewart. The opinion of the court was delivered by Ewart, J.A.D.

Ewart

[30 NJSuper Page 394] The factual basis for this litigation is as follows: The late Edward C. Reeves was a member of the Police Department in the City of Jersey City. He was born August 27, 1886 and died December 15, 1940. He and plaintiff were married May 22, 1908. By resolution of the Pension Fund Commission of the City of Jersey City, adopted November 24, 1936, Reeves was retired on half-pay, namely, $1,500 per annum, to become effective December 1, 1936. He drew his pension each month from December 1, 1936 to the date of his death on December 15, 1940. Plaintiff claims to have been the widow of Edward C. Reeves at the time of his death, and by virtue thereof claims to be entitled to receive a pension from the city of an amount equal to one-half of the pay of the deceased husband as of the date of his retirement, but not exceeding $1,000 per annum (R.S. 43:16-3). The decedent Reeves secured a final decree of divorce from the plaintiff in the State of Florida on May

9, 1940; thereafter remarried and his second wife, Jean Reeves, survived him. One of the issues is as to whether the Florida divorce was a valid judgment, binding upon the plaintiff, or whether it was a fraudulent judgment that did not accomplish its avowed object of terminating the marriage relationship between the plaintiff and the said Reeves. If the Florida judgment is valid, obviously the plaintiff is not the widow of Edward C. Reeves and would therefore have no standing to claim a pension as his widow. On the other hand, if the Florida judgment is invalid, then plaintiff would be the widow of Edward C. Reeves. In this connection, however, it is to be noted that the final decree in the courts of the State of Florida is presumptively valid under the full faith and credit clause of the Federal Constitution and that the litigant alleging otherwise has the burden of proving lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter, or over the person of the defendant, or fraud. Absent such proof, the foreign judgment must be accorded full credit. Peff v. Peff , 2 N.J. 513, 521 (1949); Eberle v. Somonek , 24 N.J. Super. 366 (Ch. Div. 1953), affirmed 27 N.J. Super. 279 (App. Div. 1953); Brown v. Brown , 28 N.J. Super. 165 (App. Div. 1953); Zieper v. Zieper , 14 N.J. 551 (1954).

There is considerable history to this litigation, a chronological statement of which follows:

In June of 1941 plaintiff instituted suit in the Second District Court of the City of Jersey City, against the firemen's and policemen's pension fund commission of the city, claiming that she was the widow of Edward C. Reeves and demanding that she be paid a pension of $1,000 per annum as his widow. Appended to her complaint was a demand that the defendant file a written specification of defenses. In response thereto, defendant filed 11 specifications which we somewhat abbreviate as follows:

(1) That plaintiff was not the wife of Edward C. Reeves at the time of his death.

(2) That Edward C. Reeves secured a final judgment of divorce against the plaintiff in Florida on May 9, 1940 at a time when he was a bona fide resident of the State of Florida.

(3) That Edward C. Reeves was survived by a wife other than the plaintiff.

(4) That Reeves, prior to death, voluntarily withdrew as a member of the city pension fund.

(5) That Reeves failed and refused to make any contribution to the pension fund in accordance with the statute.

(6) That Reeves was not a member in good standing of the pension fund at the time of his death.

(7) That no proper or adequate proof had been furnished of the death of the said Edward C. ...


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