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Bonczek v. Carter Wallace

October 22, 1997

ROBERT BONCZEK, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CARTER-WALLACE, INC., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



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

Approved for Publication October 22, 1997.

Before Judges Landau, Newman and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Landau, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Landau

The opinion of the court was delivered by

LANDAU, J.A.D.

Plaintiff Richard Bonczek appeals from the grant of summary judgment dismissing his complaint against defendant Carter-Wallace, Inc. which asserted breach of an employment contract and sought application of a promissory estoppel claim against Carter-Wallace. Bonczek's appeal also challenges the denial of his request to amend the complaint to join a new party, Ralph Levine, and to add a count for intentional interference with contract. We affirm.

Bonczek is an attorney who had been employed since 1969 in in-house counsel roles of increasing responsibility by E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co. (DuPont), located in Delaware. In 1993, following contacts initiated by an executive search firm retained by Carter-Wallace, Bonczek met with its Vice-President for Corporate Development to discuss employment as "Corporate Vice-President, Compliance and Regulatory" to be performed at the Carter-Wallace facility in Cranbury, New Jersey.

Several months of Discussions culminated in a September 28, 1993 letter sent from Carter-Wallace's New York headquarters by its Vice-President of Human Resources offering Bonczek the job, to commence about thirty (30) days from his resignation from DuPont. It contained, in part, the following language:

14. Per our standard procedure, this letter is not intended nor should it be considered as an employment contract for a definite or indefinite period of time. Once employed, you will be an employee at will. Additionally, this offer is contingent on the completion of reference checks. In this regard, we would require that the references would be generally positive in content and character.

Bonczek signed and returned the letter on October 4, 1993, resigning from DuPont on the same day. None of the parties' meetings took place in New Jersey. None of the correspondence was sent from or received in New Jersey.

Carter-Wallace's reference checks continued, as indicated in paragraph 14, and on October 12, 1993 the parties met to discuss questions that had been raised as to the accuracy of Bonczek's representations respecting his job title and salary level at DuPont. After Bonczek forwarded additional information, Carter-Wallace withdrew its offer, explaining in an October 18, 1993 letter that the additional submission did "not substantiate the [DuPont] salary you claimed." Additionally, it was noted that Bonczek's title at DuPont was not, as first indicated, "Senior Corporate Counsel", but "Corporate Counsel". The letter concluded that:

In view of these discrepancies and the lack of credibility they imply, we have decided to withdraw our offer of employment to you. As you know, the offer was contingent on satisfactory reference checks, which, of course, includes verification of all material information on which we relied for the purpose of making the offer of employment.

In early 1994, Bonczek filed his complaint against Carter-Wallace in New Jersey. Contending that there was no factual dispute respecting the legal arguments it asserted as defenses, Carter-Wallace moved, shortly before trial in 1996, for summary judgment. The motion was granted by order dated August 27, 1996. In that order, the motion Judge also denied Bonczek's eleventh hour cross-motion to amend the complaint. Bonczek urges on appeal that Carter-Wallace breached an employment contract which he had accepted; that under a choice of laws analysis, failure to apply New Jersey principles of contract law and promissory estoppel constituted plain error; that the trial Judge misapplied and misinterpreted our decision in Peck v. Imedia, Inc., 293 N.J. Super. 151, 679 A.2d 745 (App. Div. 1996); that genuine issues of material fact should have precluded grant of summary judgment as to the breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims; and that it was an abuse of discretion to deny his motion to amend the complaint.

It is clear from the proposed date of employment in the September 28, 1993 letter, and from the provisions of paragraph 14, that Bonczek's employment never commenced. We note the language, " once employed, you will be an employee at will " and "this offer is contingent on the completion of ...


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