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Labree v. MOBIL Oil Corp.

April 28, 1997

NEIL H. LABREE, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MOBIL OIL CORPORATION, MOBIL RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT CORP., AND ABC INC., A FICTITIOUS ENTITY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



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

Approved for Publication April 28, 1997. The Document Number of this Court has been corrected by the Court May 6, 1997.

Before Judges Shebell, Baime and P.g. Levy. The opinion of the court was delivered by Shebell, P.j.a.d.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shebell

The opinion of the court was delivered by

SHEBELL, P.J.A.D.

In June 1995, plaintiff, Neil H. Labree ("plaintiff"), filed a Complaint in the Law Division, alleging that he was wrongfully discharged "in derogation of the agreement, contract, collective bargaining agreement and/or understanding previously in place regarding Plaintiff" (Counts One and Three) and that his discharge was in retaliation for his receiving Workers' Compensation benefits (Counts Two and Four). See N.J.S.A. 34:15-39.1. In the "Seventh Count" plaintiff repeats the allegations of the "First through Sixth Counts" and contends that as a result, he sustained "losses and damages" for which he demands judgment against all defendants. The complaint alternatively named as his employers the three defendants, Mobil Oil Corporation ("Mobil"), Mobil Research and Development Corporation ("Mobil R&D") and ABC, Inc ("ABC").

Defendants, Mobil and Mobil R&D, asserted as specific defenses, among others, that all claims were barred by the Statute of Limitations and that the court did not have jurisdiction over certain counts of the complaint. Thereafter, they filed a motion for summary judgment. Following oral argument, summary judgment was granted to Mobil on all counts in which it was named as employer, but denied as to Mobil R&D on the counts relating to it. We granted Mobil R&D's motion for leave to appeal the denial and now reverse.

It is uncontested that plaintiff was hired by Mobil R&D in June 1981 and that plaintiff sustained a work-related injury in May 1989, which he reported to his employer. According to plaintiff, the company doctor informed him on at least two occasions he could return to light duty, however, light duty work was not available. Plaintiff was terminated in May 1990. On June 13, 1991, plaintiff filed a Workers' Compensation Claim Petition for disability resulting from his injury. This claim was later settled with Mobil R&D.

Plaintiff was a member of the Mobilab Union, Inc. ("Union") during the period that he was employed by Mobil R&D. The Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") between Mobil R&D and the Union governed the relations between the parties "in matters concerning such employees' hours, wages and working conditions as authorized by law ...." The CBA does not mention light duty work, however, plaintiff maintains that providing light duty was a course of conduct followed by Mobil R&D. It is uncontested that plaintiff did not file a grievance under the CBA.

Mobil R&D sought summary judgment based on the assertion that plaintiff's claims were time barred. Plaintiff, in opposition to the summary judgment motion, alleged for the first time, that his complaint was actually a fraud action, and therefore, governed by a six year statute of limitations.

Since this is an appeal from the denial of summary judgment, we must be guided by the standards set forth in Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 142 N.J. 520, 666 A.2d 146 (1995) and Rule 4:46-2. In reviewing any summary judgment motion, both the trial court and this court must consider the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 523. This court must then determine

whether the competent evidential materials ... are sufficient to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the alleged dispute in favor of the non-moving party.

[Ibid. ]

Summary judgment should be granted if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact ...." R. 4:46-2(c). "When the evidence 'is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law,' the trial court should not hesitate to grant summary judgment." Brill, (supra) , 142 N.J. at 540 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2512, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 214 (1986)). Where a state claim is preempted by federal law, summary judgment is generally required with respect to that claim. Lewis v. American Cyanamid Co., 294 N.J. Super. 53, 60-67 (App. Div. 1996).

Mobil R&D argues that plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim, based on the CBA and/or an "understanding previously in place," is preempted by federal law as the adjudication of the claim involves examination of the CBA. Because the claim is preempted by federal law, Mobil R&D concludes the six month statute of limitations contained in the ...


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