On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported in 41 N.J. Super. 511.
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Jacobs. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.
Plaintiffs, husband and wife, were victims of an automobile accident in this State in 1951. They recovered a judgment of $40,000 against one Fred Mancini, a New York resident, the driver of the other vehicle. The judgment remained unsatisfied and the instant suit was commenced against Mancini's insurer, defendant Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, a corporation of the State of Connecticut. Defendant succeeded in the trial court and the Superior Court, Appellate Division, affirmed on appeal, 41 N.J. Super. 511 (App. Div. 1956), Judge Freund dissenting. Our jurisdiction is grounded in N.J. Const. 1947, Art. VI, Sec. V, par. 1(b); R.R. 1:2-1(b).
Fred Mancini is an assumed name. The true name of the New York resident is Fabrizio Inghilleri. In 1948 he was involved in an accident in New York and in accordance with that law his driver's license was suspended pending proof of financial responsibility. The proof was not forthcoming. Instead, Inghilleri assumed the name of Mancini and obtained a license thereby. He was also successful in securing insurance coverage from defendant under the fictitious name. The policy was never certified as proof of financial responsibility.
The policy contained the following provision:
"8. Financial Responsibility Laws. (Coverages A and B.) Such insurance as is afforded by this policy for Bodily Injury Liability or Property Damage Liability shall comply with the provisions of the motor vehicle financial responsibility law of any state or province which shall be applicable with respect to any such liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the automobile during
the policy period, to the extent of the coverage and limits of liability required by such law, but in no event in excess of the limits of liability stated in this policy. The Insured agrees to reimburse the Company for any payment made by the Company which it would not have been obligated to make under the terms of this policy except for the agreement contained in this paragraph." (Emphasis supplied.)
Plaintiffs' contention is that by virtue of this "conforming clause" (See Standard Provisions for Automobile Policies, Condition 4, Insurance Policy Annotations, Section of Insurance Law, A.B.A. 1941) the laws of New Jersey and New York relating to the financial responsibility of motor vehicle operators are applicable and that the policy here is a "required" policy which, by statutory impact, deprives the insurer of any defenses which it might otherwise have in consequence of Inghilleri's fraud.
The insurer denies that our law is applicable in determining the policy status; that under the New York law the policy must be "certified" to the proper public authority as proof of financial responsibility before the insurer is denied any defenses arising from a contractual breach of the insured.
A majority of the Appellate Division, Judges Weintraub (now a Justice of this court) and Coolahan, held the New York law applicable and interpreted that law to require certification of the policy as a condition precedent to its status as a required policy. The dissenting judge interpreted the "conforming" clause as responding to the laws of the state where the accident occurred and, in the alternative, that the New York law was opposed to the public policy of New Jersey and should not be applied in any event.
Three questions require attention:
Under what law are the insurer's rights and liabilities to be determined? (Point I)
If the law of New York is applicable, does the public policy of New Jersey resist against its application? (Point III)
Does the applicable law deprive the insurer from asserting policy defenses against the plaintiffs? (Point II)