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Beeny v. Teleconsult Inc.

Decided: June 1, 1978.


On appeal from Division of Workers' Compensation.

Lora, Seidman and Milmed.

Per Curiam

Petitioner appeals from a judgment of the Division of Workers' Compensation dismissing a dependency claim petition filed in behalf of herself and two minor children.

Leslie S. Beeny, petitioner's decedent, was an electronics engineer who had been employed by RCA for many years until August 1, 1973. Mrs. Beeny testified that in December 1973 her husband attended a professional society meeting in Northern New Jersey where he met Roy Simpson, a consulting engineer for respondent, who suggested that decedent might work as a consultant for Teleconsult. She testified that the first time her husband went to Washington, D.C., to meet with Dr. Eitel M. Rizzoni, a principal of Teleconsult, and his associates was on January 8, 1974; that before his trip to Washington decedent and Simpson had been working together on the "Nicaragua project" for Teleconsult, using both the Beenys' home and the Simpsons' home for such work. Although Mrs. Beeny did not recall the amount he mentioned, she did say that at the time her husband started working for Teleconsult, in December 1973, before he went to Washington for the first time, he had told her how much respondent would be paying him. She presented bills which she had submitted to respondent for her husband's expenses, some of which were from as early as October 1973 and one

in particular, dated December 6, 1973, was marked "previously billed," which was taken to indicate that decedent had already submitted that bill for reimbursement.

The chronology set forth in both Simpson's and Rizzoni's testimony differed greatly from that of petitioner. According to Simpson, the professional society meeting at which he and decedent met and discussed the possibility of decedent's obtaining work as a consultant for Teleconsult was in September 1973, not December. Simpson stated that in light of his talk with decedent he contacted Rizzoni in Washington on the following day. Still in September, Simpson remembered having spoken with both Rizzoni and Beeny on the telephone from Washington, and that Rizzoni informed Simpson that Beeny was going to be working for Teleconsult. Simpson testified that he did meet with decedent several times in December, and spoke on the phone with him frequently at that time, concerning the Nicaragua project. Simpson also recalled that Beeny had gone to Washington on January 8, 1974, and that both he and decedent were in Washington in January concerning the costing aspect of the project and writing the specifications.

Dr. Rizzoni, who is the president and a director of Teleconsult, testified that the company is located in Washington, D.C., and does not have any business offices in New Jersey. At the beginning of September 1973 Beeny was invited to come to Washington to discuss the possibility of his becoming a consultant for respondent; decedent went to Washington on September 18, 1973, and "we quickly came to an agreement and we started working on that very day." The remuneration decedent was to receive was a professional fee of $100 a day, plus expenses; the first day of payment was September 18, 1973. As a matter of company policy, Rizzoni invited Beeny to Washington because "a person has to be interviewed by more than one director to be given an assignment." Rizzoni testified that although the professional fee was discussed over the phone prior to Beeny's arrival in

Washington, the details as to whether decedent would be paid on a per diem or actual expense basis were finalized in Washington on September 18 and 19, 1973. Beeny died on October 10, 1974 while working for Teleconsult in Bogota, Colombia.

We note preliminarily that although the hearings before the judge of compensation were to be limited to the issue of jurisdiction, he nevertheless found that (1) there was no employer-employee relationship, (2) the contract for the work relationship was entered into in Washington, D.C., and (3) the injury did not occur in New Jersey, and therefore New Jersey had no jurisdiction over the matter. The determination of the work relationship as being that of either employer-employee or independent contractor is irrelevant on the issue of a jurisdictional base in New Jersey. Furthermore, the record indicates the parties did not anticipate and were not prepared to try the issue of the relationship between Beeny and Teleconsult and therefore the trial judge was not justified in making findings on that issue based on the limited evidence before him.

The trial judge dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction since the contract was made in Washington, D.C., and the injury occurred in Bogota, Colombia, South America, relying upon the principles enunciated in Crawford v. Trans World Airline , 27 N.J. Super. 567, 570 (Cty. Ct. 1953), and Rivera v. Green Giant Co. , 93 N.J. Super. 6 (App. Div. 1966), aff'd 50 N.J. 284 (1967).

It is clear that if New Jersey were the situs of either the contract or the injury, a jurisdictional basis for compensation under the Workers' Compensation Act would be established. Gotkin v. Weinberg , 2 N.J. 305, 307 (1949); Rivera v. Green Giant Co., supra , 93 N.J. Super. at 11. Here, however, the record supports the trial judge's finding that the contract was made in Washington, D.C., and despite the apparently pre-existing heart disease, the injury ...

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