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English v. Stokes Molded Products Inc.

Decided: December 10, 1956.


Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Conford, J.A.D.


[43 NJSuper Page 70] Petitioner, a Trenton resident, worked for respondent at its plastics plant at Trenton from May 1951 continuously until April 14, 1952, and on that day began to work for it at its other plant across the Delaware River at Yardley, Pennsylvania. He sustained an accident while at work at Yardley on June 15, 1953. The question involved in this case is whether at that time he was working pursuant to an employment contract made in New Jersey. If so, the Division of Workmen's Compensation

had jurisdiction to make the award it granted the petitioner; per contra , if the then subsisting employment relationship is to be deemed sequential to a superseding contract made in Pennsylvania. Gotkin v. Weinberg , 2 N.J. 305 (1949); see Bowers v. American Bridge Co. , 43 N.J. Super. 48 (App. Div. 1956). The Mercer County Court held for respondent, concluding that petitioner "has failed to prove that his employment and accident in Yardley, Pa. arose out of a contract geographically chargeable to the State of New Jersey."

The issue is one of mixed fact and law. The legal question grows out of a subtle blend of contract law and the underlying philosophy of the application of our workmen's compensation statute to employment relationships having an inception in this State. See Miller v. National Chair Co. , 127 N.J.L. 414 (Sup. Ct. 1941), affirmed 129 N.J.L. 98 (E. & A. 1942); Franzen v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. , 128 N.J.L. 549 (Sup. Ct. 1942); Crawford v. Trans World Airline , 27 N.J. Super. 567, 568 (Cty. Ct. 1953).

First, as to the facts. Respondent is a New Jersey corporation, its operation at Yardley having been a division of the same corporate entity. Petitioner's testimony was essentially to this effect: when he was first engaged the Trenton plant was doing experimental work in plastics and he did that kind of work under a chemist named Duddy. His position was that of a "wet treader." This was not explained. He and other workers at Trenton were told the company was going to go into production on the product at Yardley and that most of them would "eventually go to Yardley." The Yardley plant opened in November 1951, and Duddy was transferred there. Several months later petitioner was told that "the chemist at the Yardley plant wanted to see" him. He went there the same day and Duddy said he wanted him "over there." Petitioner responded that "it was up to the Trenton plant, whenever they would release me to come over." Several days later, "on a Wednesday or Thursday," his Trenton superior, Lou De Angelo,

told him that "they wanted" him "to come over to Yardley to work" but that he (De Angelo) could not let him go before the end of the week and that he should report there on Monday. He did so. The proofs are that he commenced at Yardley on April 14, 1952, a Monday. He testified he worked at Trenton up until the prior Saturday or Sunday; that he was never laid off at any time before his accident; and that he received a vacation allowance at Yardley in July 1952 based upon the Trenton service which would not have been due a new employee by that time.

Petitioner's job classification at Yardley was as "tank operator." How much different his actual duties at Yardley were from those at Trenton does not appear. At Trenton his compensation rate rose from $1.26 per hour as a "wet treader helper," through $1.44 1/2 as a "wet treader," to $1.71 as a "wet treader leader." His initial rate at Yardley was $1.57 per hour, rising to $1.76. The payroll for Yardley was made up at Trenton, and pay checks for Yardley were issued at Trenton and brought over for disbursement.

Respondent's defense was adduced mainly through Mr. Kornbleet, its personnel manager, and Mr. Connor, plant manager of the Yardley Division. The testimony of both of these gentlemen is replete with conclusions, some volunteered, evidencing appreciation of the legal consequences in this case of the hypothesis that a termination of the employment relationship took place at Trenton and a completely new employment contract was made in Pennsylvania. Kornbleet identified an employment application signed by petitioner, dated December 10, 1951, as having been made in reference to work at Yardley. He said this and other similar applications were "accepted and collected" at Trenton, and, when the Yardley plant was opened, were "forwarded * * * to the Yardley plant for their action"; also that all hiring for Yardley was done at Yardley. Kornbleet produced a copy of a "separation notice" dated April 10, 1952, noting that petitioner was "laid off," effective April 16, 1952, "to allow for replacement by employee with greater seniority." He said the "procedure" was for oral notice of

the layoff to be given the employee and for a list of the men laid off to be given to the union. Neither Kornbleet nor any one else testified that any notice, verbal or otherwise, was given petitioner concerning a layoff. Nor did he testify concerning what "employee with greater seniority" was to replace petitioner. This witness had no direct knowledge whatsoever concerning the particular circumstances of the shift of petitioner from Trenton to Yardley. Respondent offered no particularized testimonial refutation of petitioner's story as to how the transfer occurred. Connor declined to deny that petitioner conferred with Duddy about the matter at Yardley the week prior to the shift. Neither Duddy nor De Angelo was produced as a witness by either side.

Connor's only direct knowledge of the matter was that petitioner had come in December 1951 to see what progress the Yardley plant was making and to tell him "he was filing an application." He knew nothing concerning the particular circumstances of petitioner's actual coming to work there in April 1952 although there were only nine or ten workers there at the time. His testimony, too, was almost entirely confined to matters of procedure. Union contract negotiations were separate for Yardley. Petitioner was an officer of the union at Yardley.

Kornbleet testified that a telegram was sent petitioner July 14, 1952, in accordance with a union agreement as to seniority, advising him to report for reemployment at Trenton if he was available -- this notwithstanding respondent's knowledge that he was then actually ...

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