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Meo v. Commercial Can Corp.

Decided: July 3, 1963.


Goldmann, Freund and Foley. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.


This is an appeal from a County Court judgment affirming a Workmen's Compensation Division award in favor of petitioner Meo against his employer, Commercial Can Corporation. The County Court opinion appears in 76 N.J. Super. 484 (1962).

The company concedes that the facts are not in dispute and credibility therefore plays no part in the consideration of the case. Indeed, the company could take no other position because the facts surrounding the accident were established solely through the testimony of Meo and his witnesses. The employer limited its case to the medical testimony of two doctors going to the extent of disability suffered by petitioner. Only the more significant facts need be referred to; a somewhat more detailed account may be found in the cited County Court opinion.

Meo had been Commercial Can's plant superintendent in charge of production for a number of years at a salary of $450 a week. Although the company had three plants -- Brooklyn, Newark and Pittsburgh -- his almost sole concern was clearly

with the Newark plant. Meo was on call 24 hours a day, day and night -- as occasion required -- so that plant operations might continue uninterrupted. He had multiple duties, executive as well as physical.

The Brooklyn plant went on strike November 15, 1959. On February 1, 1960 some 80 of the 105 employees at the Newark plant, members of a local affiliated with the Teamsters' Union, went out on strike. Meo was ordered by the company president to keep the Newark operation going, and to this end he, among other things, interviewed and hired workers to replace those who had struck. Among the employees who continued to work were five relatives of Meo, including his son-in-law, John Bellomo. Some of the five were union members; others belonged to management. Meo lived in Fairview, N.J., two doors from Bellomo. The company had provided Meo with a car to travel to and from the plant. Bellomo accompanied him on these trips. Meo testified that during the strike he hired some replacement workers at his home, and there were a number of meetings there to plan work schedules.

The strike was a violent one, attended by active, continuous and disorderly picketing at the plant premises. There were as many as 50 or 60 pickets in the morning, a lesser number in the afternoon, and at times there were as many as 100-150 men on the picket line. There were cursing, name-calling, stone-throwing, and efforts to overturn cars attempting to run the gauntlet of the pickets. A number of persons were hurt and had to be taken to the hospital. The Newark police tried to keep order, and the plant was under constant surveillance.

Meo was the target of constant threats. He testified that shortly after the strike started three union delegates came to his office and said that "if I knew what was good for me that I should close the plant down." He at once called in the Newark police. Meo said that when he would leave the plant with Bellomo to go home, two police motorcycle escorts would accompany them to the Newark boundary line, almost as far as

the New Jersey Turnpike. Twice striking employees attempted to run the company-owned car off the Turnpike.

On one occasion when Meo discussed the strike situation with Commercial Can's president, the latter stated that the Newark plant must be kept open despite any violence, and he would personally attend to anything that happened. Soon after the strike started Meo received a call from the president warning him to be careful, never to leave his home alone, and to ask the Fairview police for protection. Meo got in touch with the Fairview police chief and was provided with the necessary surveillance of his home. He received threatening phone calls at his home practically every night, telling him he had better shut down the plant if he knew what was good for him. A typical call was, "You dirty so-and-so; what are you trying to do, take bread and butter out of our mouths? We will get you yet. We are going to spill blood along the road." When his wife answered, the caller would hang up. There was a nightly average of four or five calls, and during the last week or so before he was attacked, he received almost a dozen calls a night.

On the morning of March 30, 1960 Meo arose at about 5:45, dressed and had breakfast, went to the garage, drove the company car out onto the driveway, and then waited for his son-in-law to come over from his home close by so that they could drive to the plant together. A green patch of lawn showing through the snow cover attracted Meo's attention. He got out of the car for a closer look, and as he was looking he heard footsteps, but paid no attention. Suddenly he heard someone say, "Here's the lousy scab," or "Here's that dirty scab." He remembered nothing further; when he regained consciousness he found himself in the Englewood Hospital. He had suffered a broken jaw, bruises to his back, injuries to his head requiring eight stitches, and the loss of three teeth, in addition to other injuries. He ...

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