The plaintiff filed in the Municipal Court of the City of Paterson 19 complaints, dated January 25, 1954, charging the defendant as president and person in control of Victory Fabrics, Inc., with 19 violations of R.S. 34:11-4 and 34:11-6, in that the Victory Fabrics, Inc., did not pay the wages of employees named in each complaint earned between January 26 and February 5, 1953 and divers other days and dates.
Trial of the 19 complaints was held in said municipal court on the 25th day of January, 1954. On June 9, 1954 a judgment was entered in that court adjudging the defendant guilty of the offenses charged in all the complaints and imposed a sentence upon the defendant of a fine of $50 on each of the 19 complaints, or a total of $950. (It had been stipulated by counsel for the plaintiff and defendant at the trial that the complaint wherein James Ward was named as the aggrieved employee would be tried and that the decision in that case would be binding as to the remaining eighteen charges involving the other employees.)
The defendant filed an appeal. Pursuant to R.R. 1:2-12 and 5:2-6, a trial de novo was held before this court on April 27, 1956.
The testimony of the six witnesses offered by the plaintiff was that they had been employed by Victory Fabrics, Inc.,
in early February 1953; that they had not been paid the balance of wages due them at the time their employment ceased; and that the defendant herein was in charge and gave instructions from time to time as to the work to be done. Their testimony was not disputed.
The defendant testified there were no funds with which to pay the employees because Victory Fabrics, Inc. was in arrears of rent where said business was conducted, as a result of which the landlord distrained for rent on February 2, 1953. In the distraint all of the chattels of the corporation were levied upon and sold, leaving no surplus after the claim for rent was satisfied.
The corporation had conducted a "commission weaving" business and was paid by the yard for weaving the material being supplied by the customer. There were finished goods on the looms at the time of the distraint, and all of the wages owing to the employees at the time were contained in the goods which had been partially woven. Immediately upon the distraint being made, the owners of the goods came in and removed their property, and the only assets remaining in possession of the Victory Fabrics, Inc., was a small amount of cash in the bank which was later divided pro rata among the employees.
The matter thus resolves itself into three questions:
(1) Does the statute apply to a defendant, who, through economic circumstances, beyond his control, fails to pay the wages due his employees in accordance with R.S. 34:11-4, where there was no willful intent?; and
(2) Under such circumstances, is the plaintiff required to show, notwithstanding the action is civil, that the defendant willfully violated the provisions of ...