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Connolly v. Port Authority of New York

December 28, 1998


Before Judges Conley, A.a. Rodr¡guez and Kimmelman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: The opinion of the court was delivered by Conley, J.A.D.

[9]    Argued December 9, 1998

On appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation.

Does the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Court have subject matter jurisdiction over a compensation claim against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by an employee who has no contact with New Jersey either in terms of his employment relationship with the Port Authority, his location of employment, his residency or the place of the accident? Despite the unreported Appellate Division opinions to the contrary, *fn1 the Workers' Compensation Judge held that jurisdiction did lie in New Jersey based entirely on the bi-state nature of the Port Authority, regardless of the presence or absence in New Jersey of the usual jurisdictional grounding factors - place of injury, place of employment contract or hiring, location of the employer/employee relationship, and/or the employee's residency. We disagree and reverse.

We preface our Discussion, however, by emphasizing the narrowness of the precise issue before us. The particular claim petition involved in this appeal was only one of a number of petitions that had been filed in the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Court by Port Authority employees. As we understand it the indicia of New Jersey jurisdiction varied. For jurisdiction purposes, the cases were placed in one of four categories of employees: 1) employees who lived and were based in New York; 2) employees who lived in New York but who were assigned to the Central Police Pool; 3) employees who lived in New York, were assigned to the central pool and who were injured during that assignment; 4) employees who lived in New Jersey. As we understand it, petitioner here was placed into the first group. Thus, while the Workers' Compensation Judge found New Jersey jurisdiction in all of the cases, the Port Authority has appealed only the determination as to petitioner William Connolly. We decide the jurisdictional issue only in the context of the specific jurisdictional facts present in his case. Our opinion, therefore, should be construed no broader than those facts.

Petitioner began his employment with the Port Authority in 1954 and worked until his retirement in 1987. The claim petition before us, filed in 1988, alleges an occupational hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud noises. *fn2 Petitioner has always been a resident of New York and was hired at the Port Authority New York offices. His initial employment was as a building and grounds attendant and he then became an electrician's helper. During the course of his employment with the Port Authority, petitioner worked at the LaGuardia Airport, at the Idlewild Airport (now the Kennedy International Airport) and at the Brooklyn Piers. His employment locations have all been within New York. During his thirty-three years with the Port Authority, he was in New Jersey for one day when, during his employment, he was offered, but rejected, a helper's job in the Holland Tunnel. Because petitioner has lived and worked entirely in New York, he has not paid New Jersey taxes or had New Jersey taxes withheld from his paycheck. Petitioner also never filed a New Jersey non-resident tax return.

We begin with the principle that the Workers' Compensation Court is statutory, with limited jurisdiction. Young v. Western Electric Co., Inc., 96 N.J. 220, 225 (1984); Riccioni v. American Cyanamid, 26 N.J. Super. 1, 4 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 13 N.J. 289 (1953). Unlike some states, New Jersey's Workers' Compensation Act does not have an extra-territorial jurisdiction provision and each case, therefore, requires consideration of the particular facts. And see Roberts v. United States Steel Corporation, Fairless Works, 125 N.J. Super. 480, 484 (App. Div. 1973) ("[w]e look to the substance of the employment relation - not to the form.").

Because a Workers' Compensation Court may apply only its own state law to award a compensation benefit, frequently the issue of jurisdiction over an out-of-state injury, such as petitioner's New York employment caused alleged hearing loss, becomes mixed with a choice-of-law analysis. Thus, generally it has been said that:

"Any state having a more-than-casual interest in a compensable injury may apply its compensation act to that injury without violating its constitutional duty to give full faith and credit to the compensation statutes of other states also having an interest in the injury. Among the factors which, if occurring within the state, will give rise to such a legitimate interest are: The making of the contract, the occurrence of the injury, the existence of the employment relation, and possibly also the residency of the employee and the localization of the employer's business. [9 Larson's Workers' Compensation Law §86:00 at 16-55 (1997) (Larson's).]"

"In §86.10, Larson's sets forth six grounds "on which the applicability of a particular compensation act has been asserted":"

"(1) Place where the injury occurred; (2) Place of making the contract; (3) Place where the employment relation exists or is carried out; (4) Place where the industry is localized; (5) Place where the employee resides; or (6) Place whose statute the parties expressly adopted by contract." [9 Larson's §86.10 at 16-55.]

The treatise further states:

"When one of these falls within the local state, and some or all of the others occur in another state, the question arises whether the local state can apply its statute without being accused of denying full faith and credit to the statute of the other. As matters now stand, it is clear that the state which was the locus of any one of the first three items - contract, injury or employment-and probably also of the next two - employee residence and business localization - can constitutionally apply its statute if it wants to. [9 Larson's §86.10 at 16-55 to 16-56.]"

As we read the Compensation Judge's decision here, and as petitioner argues, the "place where the industry is localized" was considered to be determinative. Since the Port Authority can be said to be "localized" in both states, Lieberman v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 132 N.J. 76, 81-82 (1993) ("[t]he Port Authority controls Newark, Teterboro, Kennedy, and LaGuardia Airports; two heliports; seven marine terminals; three industrial parks; the World Trade Center; the PATH train system; the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels; the Bayonne, Goethals, and ...

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