On appeal from Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, Docket No. 2006-24938.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo, S.L. Reisner and Baxter.
Respondent Lockheed Martin (LM) appeals from the August 8, 2007 decision of a judge of compensation (JOC) that petitioner Geoffrey Motluck's injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment with LM and were thus compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 34:15-1 to -142. We affirm.
Petitioner is employed as a computer systems analyst with LM at its Moorestown facility. In late January 2002, LM sent petitioner to San Diego, California for four days with co-employee Quinn Easterbrook to upgrade a computer network at the LM facility there. Easterbrook coordinated the project and served as the lead employee. Once in San Diego, petitioner and Easterbrook coordinated their activities with J.T. Morgan, a LM employee from New Jersey who had been working in California for a few months. Morgan was not working on the same project as petitioner and Easterbrook, but was assigned as a local contact. Expenses during the business trip, including hotel, airfare, food and automobile rental were paid for by LM, which also provided each employee with a company credit card to be used during the San Diego project.
Typically, the three worked twelve to fourteen hour days with no time for leisure activities. According to petitioner, their work day began at about 5:30 a.m. and did not end until the sun was down. After work, petitioner and Easterbrook routinely gathered their belongings, dropped off their computer equipment and laptops at the hotel, went out for dinner, returned to the hotel room, checked e-mails, and went to sleep. Each night, petitioner and Easterbrook tried a different restaurant for dinner. Easterbrook testified that during dinner they normally did not bring their laptops.
On the last scheduled day of the trip, February 2, 2002, petitioner and Easterbrook encountered a problem with the installation. Specifically, one of the main pieces of equipment failed once it was supplied with power. The piece could not be replaced for approximately one to two weeks because it was custom-built and had to be ordered and delivered from the manufacturer. Because petitioner and Easterbrook were returning to New Jersey the following morning, they decided to instruct Morgan, who was going to remain in San Diego, on how to install the replacement part when it arrived.
That night after work, petitioner and Easterbrook called Morgan and informed him about the computer problem. The three decided to go to a local restaurant near the beach. They decided to drive in petitioner's rental car, as it was larger than Morgan's vehicle. Petitioner and Easterbrook's testimony does not specify whose decision it was to relay the installation procedure to Morgan over dinner. Petitioner merely stated that "we," as in petitioner and Easterbrook, "called Morgan" after work.
According to petitioner, the three arrived at the restaurant at approximately 8:30 p.m. There, for about two and one-half hours, they had drinks and discussed how the computer problem was to be resolved. Petitioner conceded that the entire conversation during dinner was "most likely" not limited to work-related topics.
Easterbrook testified that the dinner was not a formal business meeting and that he did not require Morgan's attendance. In fact, if petitioner and Morgan had told him they were too tired to attend, he would not have insisted that they do so. He explained that the installation procedure could easily have been relayed to Morgan the next day over the phone because it was not complicated and therefore a face-to-face meeting was not necessary. According to Easterbrook, dinner with petitioner and Morgan was convenient "because [they] were all located at the same point to be able to discuss things." He described the dinner as a "general meeting" among the three of them "about the day's events and actually about the trip's events, because it was the last day we were there."
After dinner, around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. according to petitioner, the three left the restaurant together. As they approached the parking lot, Easterbrook observed two individuals standing near their rental car that was parked across the street. Petitioner testified that the men were urinating on the driver's side of the car. After Easterbrook yelled out for the men to step away from the vehicle, he, Morgan and petitioner walked toward the car hoping the men would disperse. According to petitioner, after he identified himself as the owner, one of the unidentified males pushed him twice causing petitioner to collide with two others behind him. Petitioner was then struck from behind and fell to the ground. While on the ground, petitioner was kicked in the face by about four or five men, rendering him unconscious. Easterbrook called 911. Police and ambulance records show that the responding units arrived at approximately 1:50 a.m.
When petitioner regained consciousness, he found himself in an ambulance wearing a neck brace. He was taken to a nearby hospital and spent the night in the emergency room. Tests revealed "multiple fractures to the skull, eye sockets, and nose." Doctors recommended "immediate treatment by a reconstructive surgeon." According to the medical records, petitioner was alert, but intoxicated, with a breathalyzer reading of 0.113 taken at 3:16 a.m. Petitioner was sent to New Jersey on his scheduled flight that day.
In a seventeen-page oral opinion, JOC LaBoy held that "petitioner sustained his burden of proving that his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment with respondent, and [are], therefore, compensable." He found from the testimony that: petitioner and Easterbrook's business trip to San Diego was a "special mission or assignment ordered, directed and under the control of" LM; and on the night of the assault, the three went to dinner, paid for by LM, in order to discuss ...