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Phillips v. Oneida Motor Freight Inc.

Decided: November 1, 1978.

NANCY A. PHILLIPS, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
ONEIDA MOTOR FREIGHT, INC., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Division of Workers' Compensation.

Conford, Pressler and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by Conford, P.J.A.D.

Conford

[163 NJSuper Page 299] Petitioner filed a dependency claim petition for workers' compensation based upon her husband's death while driving a truck in New York for respondent. Compensability was stipulated, the only issue at the hearing being whether New Jersey had jurisdiction. The judge of compensation found that although decedent was hired and resided in Pennsylvania and was killed in New York, his employment contacts with New Jersey -- in that he "worked completely out of" a depot in New Jersey -- were sufficient

to confer jurisdiction upon this State. On appeal respondent disputes this assessment of an adequate basis for jurisdiction.

The facts were essentially undisputed. Decedent had been employed by respondent as a truck driver from 1959 through the date of his death in June 1974. He was killed in New York as a result of an on-the-job accident. He was initially hired by respondent's Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania office. Decedent at that time resided in Pennsylvania, and his trips commenced in Hop Bottom with a destination in upstate New York.

About 1969, however, decedent began to work on runs beginning in respondent's Carlstadt, New Jersey, terminal and terminating at an upstate New York destination. Nevertheless, decedent continued to reside in Pennsylvania, usually driving his car to Carlstadt on Sunday evenings and leaving it there all week, during which he would make two or three round trips, all beginning and ending at the Carlstadt terminal. Between trips he would sleep overnight at the Carlstadt terminal. Decedent received all his trip instructions and picked up his log books at the Carlstadt terminal. At the end of the week decedent would drive his own car home from Carlstadt to Pennsylvania. He was not reimbursed for his transportation to and from Carlstadt.

Respondent's central accounting office was located in Carlstadt. Decedent's supervisor characterized it as the "main terminal." Regardless of what state they resided in, all of respondent's employees were issued paychecks from the Carlstadt office, and that office deducted from the checks the amounts of tax required by the employees' respective states. Decedent or his wife normally picked up his check at the Hop Bottom office, where it was sent apparently as a matter of employees' convenience. As noted, decedent would receive all his directions from the Carlstadt office, and aside from calling in sick to the Hop Bottom office, he normally had no regular contacts with that office.

On advice of counsel petitioner first instituted a compensation claim in Pennsylvania, where it is pending. Respondent

has filed an answer denying liability in that Commonwealth on the ground that decedent was not a Pennsylvania employee at the time of the fatal accident.

Appellant's position on this appeal is that there is no authority in this State for sustaining workers' compensation in a case such as this where New Jersey is neither the place of making of the hiring contract, the residence of the worker nor the locus of the accidental injury. While that appears to be a fact, it is equally true that no decision of the highest court of the State has yet expressly held that such a combination of facts is necessarily fatal to New Jersey jurisdiction. The question is therefore open for first-instance determination whether the presence in this State of the employment situs or relationship alone should suffice to found jurisdiction. For reasons to be set forth, we respond to that question in the affirmative, and affirm.

The making of the contract in New Jersey has long been regarded as the primary basis for positing compensation jurisdiction here. Gotkin v. Weinberg , 2 N.J. 305 (1949); Bowers v. American Bridge Co. , 43 N.J. Super. 48 (App. Div. 1956), aff'd o.b. 24 N.J. 390 (1957). Indeed it is clear that the making of the contract in New Jersey is sufficient of itself to vest jurisdiction regardless of the residence of the workman, the situs of the employment relationship or the location of the accident. Ibid; Rivera v. Green Giant Co. , 93 N.J. Super. 6 (App. Div. 1966), aff'd o.b. 50 N.J. 284 (1967). However, from an early date, New Jersey courts have accepted jurisdiction despite an out-of-state hiring contract if other significant contacts existed here. American Radiator Co. v. Rogge , 86 N.J.L. 436 (Sup. Ct. 1914), aff'd o.b. 87 N.J.L. 314 (E. & A. 1915), app. dism. 245 U.S. 630, 38 S. Ct. 63, 62 L. Ed. 520 (1917) (employed to work partly in New Jersey and accident ...


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