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Smith v. Squibb Corp.

Decided: February 19, 1992.

DAVID T. SMITH AND MARIE SMITH, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SQUIBB CORPORATION, A CORPORATION DOING BUSINESS IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; SURGICOT, INC., A SQUIBB COMPANY, A CORPORATION DOING BUSINESS IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; AND ERNEST MARIO, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County.

J.h. Coleman and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by J.h. Coleman, P.J.A.D.

Coleman

The opinion of the court was delivered by

J.H. COLEMAN, P.J.A.D.

The issue raised in this appeal is whether Shebar v. Sanyo Business Systems Corp., 111 N.J. 276, 288-289, 544 A.2d 377 (1988) should be applied retroactively or prospectively. We hold that it should be applied retroactively.

This is the second appeal in this case in which David T. Smith (plaintiff) has alleged wrongful termination of employment. In our first decision dated July 19, 1989, we held that plaintiff's claim of an oral contract of employment supported by an act of forbearance alleged a cause of action similar to that alleged in Shebar. The Supreme Court denied defendants' petition for certification on November 13, 1989, 118 N.J. 223, 570 A.2d 977.

The matter was scheduled for trial on September 24, 1990. On that date defendants presented the trial court with a motion seeking a ruling that Shebar be given prospective application only. The motion was argued on October 9, 1990, and the Judge ruled in favor of defendants and dismissed the complaint by order dated November 7, 1990. In a letter opinion filed pursuant to R. 2:5-1(b), the Judge concluded that based on Grigoletti v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., 118 N.J. 89, 570 A.2d 903 (1990), Shebar should be given only prospective application. She held that Shebar 's recognition that "forbearance from accepting another job offer can be adequate consideration for an oral employment contract . . . was certainly new to New Jersey" and should be applied prospectively from the date Shebar was decided, August 4, 1988.

On this appeal, plaintiff argues that Grigoletti was limited to Woolley v. Hoffmann-LaRoche, 99 N.J. 284, 491 A.2d 1257, modified, 101 N.J. 10, 499 A.2d 515 (1985), type claims and that Shebar as well as the present case are not Woolley type cases. We agree.

Grigoletti, supra, 118 N.J. at 116-117, 570 A.2d 903, held that the decision in Woolley should be applied only prospectively because "it involved a novel and unanticipated interpretation and application of that law and, in fact, altered the basic structure of employer/at-will-employee relations." Id. 99 N.J. at 116, 491 A.2d 1257. The Court further observed that " Woolley took a quantum leap forward in holding that contractual obligations could be implied in fact from an employment manual, and gave such manuals and similar employer policies a legal significance not theretofore found." Id. at 117, 570 A.2d 903. Thus, Grigoletti 's prospectivity holding is limited to Woolley type employment contracts.

Shebar in plain and unmistakable language made clear that it did not involve a Woolley type claim because no employment contract based on an employment manual or employer policies was alleged. To the contrary, Shebar alleged an oral promise was made to him that he would not be discharged except for cause. He alleged an act of forbearance in not accepting another job as the required additional consideration. The Shebar Court stated "There is no basis in this record for finding an established [ Woolley type] company-wide termination policy. What is before us is a special contract with a particular employee, not a general agreement covering all employees." Shebar, supra, 111 N.J. at 288, 544 A.2d 377.

Nor does Shebar represent a novel or unanticipated interpretation of the law such as required by Coons v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 96 N.J. 419, 426-434, 476 A.2d 763 (1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1123, 105 S. Ct. 808, 83 L. Ed. 2d 800 (1985), in order to satisfy the test for ...


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