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Hodes v. Oak Flooring Co.

Decided: November 16, 1964.


For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Schettino, J.


Petitioner (hereinafter plaintiff) obtained a judgment against Oak Flooring Co. (hereinafter defendant) in the Workmen's Compensation Division. Defendant filed a notice of appeal to the Union County Court with the Workmen's Compensation Division at Trenton on the 45th day after the compensation judgment was filed in the Division, but did not file its notice of appeal with the Clerk of Union County until the 46th day.

Plaintiff moved to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the late filing of the notice with the County Clerk was contrary to N.J.S.A. 34:15-66 which provides for the filing within 45 days. Defendant made a cross motion in which it sought an order enlarging the time within which the appeal might be taken pursuant to the provisions of R.R. 1:27B, or, in the alternative, a nunc pro tunc order in the event that the court determined that the notice of appeal previously filed had not been filed within time. The County Court granted plaintiff's motion, holding that it had no power to relax the filing time requirement, and denied defendant's cross motion. The Appellate Division affirmed, 82 N.J. Super. 216 (1964). Thereafter, we granted certification on defendant's petition. 42 N.J. 140 (1964).

The facts are not in dispute. Defendant's attorney "in charge of handling this appeal" was directed on Friday, June 7, 1963 to prosecute an appeal, and was advised that if an appeal was to be taken, the notice had to be filed by Monday, June 10, 1963. The notice of appeal was dictated that Friday afternoon with instructions to type the notice on Monday morning and have it hand-delivered to and filed with the Division in Trenton and the County Clerk's office in Union County on that day. Defendant's attorney could not personally supervise the matter since he had on Monday, June 10, learned of his father's death and had left for Florida to attend the funeral.

On Monday, the secretary typed the notice of appeal and gave it to the office messenger together with appropriate instructions on filing. The messenger left Newark at 1:00 P.M. and arrived in Trenton at "about 1:45 P.M." He filed the notice at the Division and "returned to the station in Trenton to take the express train scheduled to leave Trenton at 2:37 P.M. and arrive in Newark at 3:20 P.M." The train, however, was delayed and did not arrive in Newark until 4:05 P.M. The messenger then took a bus to Elizabeth and got to the County Clerk's office but found that everyone in the clerk's office had departed. On June 11, the messenger informed the secretary of the predicament. She immediately arranged for hand delivery to the County Clerk's office that day -- the referred to 46th day after filing of the judgment.

In Hodgson v. Applegate, 31 N.J. 29, 43 (1959), we noted that the principle of finality of judgments was involved; it is one of repose; it dictates that litigation must eventually be ended and, at some point, the prevailing party should be allowed to rely confidently on the inviolability of his judgment. But we emphasized that the principle is not absolute and must be weighed in the balance with the equally salutary principle that justice should be done in every case and absent a binding restriction, courts should strive to grant relief with evenhanded exercise of discretion.

R.R. 1:3-1 provides in part that:

"Where an appeal is permitted, it shall be taken to the appropriate appellate court within the following periods of time after the entry of the judgment, order or determination appealed from:

(b) 45 days -- * * * final state agency decisions or actions, * * *."

In the context of a Workmen's Compensation appeal, is the County Court an "appropriate appellate court" under this rule? We hold that it is. See R.R. 5:2-5 (entitled "Workmen's Compensation Appeals") setting forth in detail the mechanics in processing "an appeal to the county court from a judgment of the Workmen's Compensation Division." This type judgment is treated like other judgments appealed from, i.e., R.R. 5:2-5(a) refers to R.R. 1:4-8 which provides for a supersedeas bond or cash deposit in order to stay a judgment and also refers to R.R. 1:3-2 providing for the time for a cross appeal. Other provisions indicate clearly that the matter is an "appeal."

We next consider whether the Workmen's Compensation Division is a "state agency" under R.R. 1:3-1(b). In Mulhearn v. Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., 2 N.J. 356, 365-6 (1949), Chief Justice Vanderbilt, in a comprehensive opinion on the history of the Division, detailed at length many "court" attributes possessed by the Division but concluded that it was not a "court" to which certification from the Supreme Court would lie. We there held that the Division of Workmen's Compensation was an administrative tribunal in a department which is a component part of the executive establishment. We conclude therefore ...

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