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Seymour Alter v. Resorts International Inc.

Decided: May 12, 1989.


Gibson, J.s.c.


Plaintiff seeks to specifically enforce an alleged lifetime contract for employment. Defendant contests the existence of the contract as well as its enforceability. The matter is before the court on cross motions for summary judgment and the following represents my findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Factual Background.

Plaintiff, Seymour Alter (Alter), began working as a consultant for defendant, Resorts International, Inc. (Resorts) in 1966 when the company was headquartered in Nassau in the Bahamas. In the mid-1970's, when the prospect of casino gambling in Atlantic City was becoming more of a reality, Resorts began exploring the possibility of opening a casino there and sent plaintiff to act as its "frontman" and real estate advisor. Around that same time Alter became a full-time employee with an annual salary of $35,000 plus other benefits. After casino gaming was legalized in New Jersey in 1976, Resorts became the first casino to be licensed.

During this same time period, Alter was also a personal friend of Resort's president, Jack Davis and its chief operating officer, James Crosby. Alter claims that both Crosby and Davis were aware that he had multiple sclerosis and they both agreed, as far back as the 1960's, that he would remain employed with Resorts for the rest of his life, regardless of his health. He also contends that this promise was reiterated on many occasions both before and after Resorts obtained its casino license. Alter concedes that this "agreement" was oral and that his employment terms were "purposely vague." However,

he claims that was necessary so that he could perform any job requested and it was clearly understood, regardless of what he was doing for the company, he would receive $35,000 a year plus expenses and medical benefits.

Following the passage of the Casino Control Act and because of Resorts' need for a casino license, all company employees, including Alter, were required to apply for licensing. The resultant investigation of Alter by the Division of Gaming Enforcement disclosed various problems with his background including charges of bribery and the procuring of prostitutes for Bahamian custom officials. The result was that Alter failed to get a license and Resort's own license approval required it to have no further association with him unless and until he was licensed. As a result, Resort's suspended Alter without pay in 1978.

Alter contends that he then sought to have Davis and Crosby honor his lifetime employment contract. The result was a letter agreement dated August 11, 1981 which, by its terms, was "a settlement of matters outstanding" and provided Alter or his estate with a guaranteed annual "pension" of $35,000 a year (a minimum total of $175,000), health insurance, the payment of certain legal and relocation expenses and the forgiveness of a $21,000 debt. In accordance with the Casino Control Act, Resorts filed a petition with the Casino Control Commission on November 2, 1981 seeking a declaratory ruling as to the propriety of the agreement. Alter joined in the petition claiming that the agreement represented a permissible "retirement plan." The commission, however, rejected the bulk of the agreement and by order of January 5, 1982, permitted Resorts simply to reimburse Alter's legal expenses and continue his health coverage. Alter now claims that it was not made clear to the commission that the above agreement arose out of a "lifetime employment contract."

After the "retirement plan" was rejected, the parties then negotiated a "consulting agreement." That agreement, dated

November 7, 1983, called for Alter to render services as a general consultant on hotel matters and provided for compensation at $36,000 a year plus health benefits. Like the previous agreement, however, it was subject to approval by the Casino Control Commission. On April 10, 1984, the commission once again decided to disapprove the agreement. Its findings were incorporated in a 28 page written opinion which addressed a number of issues, several of which were similar to the ones presented here. That disapproval was later affirmed by the Appellate Division. On January 7, 1988, Alter filed a petition seeking reconsideration of the commission's earlier decision but he later withdrew that request. He then filed this suit on June 1, 1988 seeking specific performance of the "lifetime contract" and requesting payment of $225,000 plus interest, that sum apparently representing those monies unpaid by Resorts from the time he was discharged.

Crosby is now deceased and Resorts has not filed any opposing affidavits. Instead, it has submitted the deposition testimony of Jack Davis, who fails to confirm the employment terms alleged by Alter, but concedes it was always intended that Alter be regularly and permanently employed. Resorts has also submitted a variety of documents which support the history related above and which it contends contradict plaintiff's ...

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