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Department of Labor and Industry v. Rosen

Decided: February 25, 1957.

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRY, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MAX ROSEN, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



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

Freund

The State, through the Department of Labor and Industry, filed in the Municipal Court of the City of Paterson 19 complaints against the defendant, Max Rosen, president of Victory Fabrics, Inc., charging violation of the provisions of N.J.S.A. 34:11-4 for failure to pay his employees their full wages. The parties stipulated that only one of the cases be tried and that the decision be dispositive of all. The trial court found that the defendant had violated the statute, imposed a penalty of $50 for each of the 19 violations and entered judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $950. The defendant appealed to the Passaic County Court which, after a trial de novo , reversed, 40 N.J. Super. 363 (Cty. Ct. 1956), entering a judgment of no cause of action in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appeals.

There is no dispute as to the facts, only a legal issue is before us. N.J.S.A. 34:11-4 requires that:

"Every person, firm, association or partnership * * * and every corporation * * * shall pay at least every two weeks, in lawful money of the United States, to each and every employee engaged in his, their or its business * * * the full amount of wages earned and unpaid in lawful money to such employee, up to within twelve days of such payment."

The penalty for violation of this section is prescribed in N.J.S.A. 34:11-6 which provides that:

"Every person, firm, association, partnership or corporation mentioned" in the above section "and every officer or agent thereof who shall violate any of the provisions of said section 34:11-4 shall, for the first offense, be liable to a penalty of fifty dollars ($50.00),

and for the second and each subsequent offense to a penalty of one hundred dollars ($100.00), to be recovered by and in the name of the Department of Labor of this State. * * *"

At the trial de novo , the defendant admitted that his employees had not been paid their full wages. The corporation conducted a commission business, weaving at a specified rate per yard materials owned and supplied by its customers. Because of financial difficulties the corporation defaulted in the payment of rent, the landlord distrained, and the owners removed their materials. The defendant testified that he divided "all the money that I had in the bank at the time equally amongst my help. It amounted to about twenty per cent. * * * I was unable to pay them in full, because I hadn't any money * * * I had no means of paying." The County Court reversed the judgment below on the ground that the proceeding was criminal in nature, requiring proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of intention to violate the statute or a willful refusal to pay the wages due, and that the State failed to so prove.

Regardless of in how sympathetic a light this court may view the defendant's situation, our duty is to construe the statute as enacted. We cannot write into the statute conditions or qualifications; that is the function of the Legislature.

The issues are these: (1) are the pertinent statutes criminal in nature, and (2) is proof of willful intention to violate required?

Historically, N.J.S.A. 34:11-4 is derived from chapter 179 of the Laws of 1896 and chapter 38 of the Laws of 1899, the latter entitled "An Act to provide for the payment of wages in lawful money of the United States every two weeks." The motivating factor for the enactment of the legislation was the elimination of the practice prevalent among factory owners, particularly by owners of glass factories in southern New Jersey, of paying wages in the form of order books or scrip, redeemable only at ...


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