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Eclipse Pioneer Division of Bendix Aviation Corp. v. Minter

Decided: May 6, 1955.

ECLIPSE PIONEER DIVISION OF BENDIX AVIATION CORP., A CORPORATION AUTHORIZED TO DO BUSINESS IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY AND FIDELITY & CASUALTY CO. OF NEW YORK, AN INSURANCE COMPANY ALSO AUTHORIZED TO DO BUSINESS IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MINNIE MINTER AND MARILYN SANDERSON MINTER, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clapp, S.j.a.d.

Clapp

Appeal is taken from a summary judgment of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, denying interpleader. The employer of Wallace Minter and the employer's insurance carrier sought to interplead Minnie Minter and Marilyn Sanderson Minter (known also as Mary Sanders Minter), each of whom claims to be Wallace's widow and to be entitled, as such, to compensation concededly due the true widow under the Workmen's Compensation Act by reason of his death.

Prior to the interpleader action, Minnie's claim against the employer had been reduced to judgment in the Workmen's Compensation Division; and though the employer had then moved for a new trial, the motion had been denied, and the denial affirmed by the County Court and this court. Minter v. Bendix Aviation Corp. , 26 N.J. Super. 268 (App. Div. 1953).

Thereafter and pending the interpleader action, Marilyn's claim was reduced to judgment in the Workmen's Compensation Division. On appeal to the County Court, this judgment was remanded to the Compensation Division and a stay imposed, though the court found no error in the determination. We need not discuss the County Court's decision.

Faced with these two judgments, the Chancery Division refused to allow interpleader of Minnie's and Marilyn's claims, holding that a judgment in the Workmen's Compensation Division could not thereby be collaterally attacked.

Whether there may be interpleader of inconsistent claims reduced to judgment, raises questions which we need not deal with generally. See 48 C.J.S., Interpleader , ยง 23, p. 70; 33 C.J. 448; 108 A.L.R. 267, 275; 30 Am. Jur. 223, 230; 21 Minn. L. Rev. 752; 50 Harv. L. Rev. 835; 47 Id. 1174, 1179; 37 Id. 388; 18 Id. 315; 49 Yale L.J. 377, 414; 45 Yale L.J. 1161, 1166; and the cases cited therein including in particular Phillips v. Taylor , 148 Md. 157, 129 A. 18 (Ct. App. 1925); American Surety Co. v. Grays Harbor County , 187 Wash. 164, 60 P. 2 d 10 (Sup. Ct. 1936); cf. Allegheny County v. Virgin , 367 Pa. 389, 80 A. 2 d 807 (Sup. Ct. 1951), opening the judgment. See too Van Winkle v. Owen , 54 N.J. Eq. 253 (Ch. 1896).

Suffice it here to hold that where there are two claims exposing a debtor to double liability, he cannot -- once one of the claims is reduced to judgment against him -- secure redress by way of interpleader unless he can be relieved of the judgment. Interpleader is not a device by which he may escape the force of an adjudication; and of course the mere inconsistency of the two claims does not of itself enable him to impugn the verity of the judgment. Ex'rs. of Lozier v. Admrs. of Van Saun , 3 N.J. Eq. 325, 332 (Ch. 1835), does not help the debtor. There, in a situation arising long before the integration of courts of law and equity, it was held there was ground for equitable relief from the judgment.

No attack, requiring attention here, seems to have been made in this cause upon either Minnie's or Marilyn's judgment, except that on the oral argument before us it was urged that Minnie's judgment was procured through a fraud perpetrated by her upon the Workmen's Compensation Division. To this matter we shall address ourselves in this opinion. The charge counsel made was this: that Minnie at the time of her compensation proceeding not only knew of Marilyn's prior marriage to Wallace, which Minnie denied in her testimony then, but further that at that time -- if consideration be given to the dispute over Wallace's allotment checks while he was in the army -- Minnie was aware that Marilyn doubtless was his lawful wife.

On this question of fraud, the proofs in the proceeding brought by Marilyn in the Workmen's Compensation Division, when taken with the proofs that were before us in 1953, do not meet the test laid down in Shammas v. Shammas , 9 N.J. 321, 330 (1952):

"Perjured testimony that warrants disturbance of a final judgment must be shown by clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence to have been, not false merely, but to have been willfully and purposely falsely given, and to have been material to the issue tried and not merely cumulative but probably to have controlled the result."

Still the above-mentioned proofs do raise suspicions of a character sufficient for us to say -- and we do so with some hesitancy because this has been a much litigated affair -- that the employer, if it wishes it, is entitled to an opportunity to institute a further proceeding to open Minnie's judgment on the ground of her fraud on the Compensation ...


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