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Grouzalis v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey


April 13, 2009


On appeal from New Jersey Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition No. 2001-40384.

Per curiam.


Argued February 24, 2009

Before Judges Wefing and Parker.

Petitioner appeals from an order entered in the Division of Workers' Compensation dismissing her petition for lack of jurisdiction. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.

Petitioner and her husband were married in 1965 and lived in New Jersey up until the time of his death on September 11, 2001, in the attack on the World Trade Center. At no time did the couple live in New York. Mr. Grouzalis started working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1963; his employment with the Port Authority was only interrupted for a brief period, when he was in military service. Mr. Grouzalis started with the Port Authority working in the mail room. Mrs. Grouzalis said that he had worked at various positions and at various sites before finally becoming a Property Manager for the World Trade Center, the post he held at the time of his death on September 11. He had held this position for at least ten years. Most of the personnel files of the Port Authority were destroyed in the attack and thus there is no official documentation of his job postings throughout the years. Mrs. Grouzalis testified, however, that he had spent part of his working career in New Jersey. She said that he had worked on the New Jersey side of both the Holland and the Lincoln tunnels during the 1960s and had worked at Port Newark for several months in the 1970s. It is clear that whatever time he may have spent in New Jersey was vastly outweighed by his service in New York.

After her husband's death, petitioner began to receive dependency benefits through New York's workers' compensation program. She filed a petition seeking dependency benefits through New Jersey, however, because of the higher benefits she would receive from New Jersey. Following a trial, the judge of compensation dismissed her petition, finding New Jersey did not have jurisdiction.

Petitioner has appealed from that determination. She makes two arguments on appeal: that New Jersey has jurisdiction because she is a resident of New Jersey and New Jersey has sufficient interest in the matter such that invoking subject matter jurisdiction would not offend due process or conflict with New York law.

Residency of the claimant alone is insufficient to confer jurisdiction upon New Jersey's workers' compensation division. Neither is the fact that defendant Port Authority is a bi-state entity, spanning both New York and New Jersey. Williams v. Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J., 175 N.J. 82, 88 (2003) (noting, "[t]he fact that the employer is a bi-state agency has not heretofore been recognized as a basis to assume jurisdiction."). If the work-related injury occurs in New Jersey, jurisdiction will follow. Connolly v. Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J., 317 N.J.

Super. 315, 320 (App. Div. 1998). Jurisdiction will also follow if the employment contract was signed here or the employee was hired here. Ibid. In the absence of such a direct connection, "jurisdiction may still arise where the 'composite employment incidents present a[n] . . . identification of the employment relationship with this State.'" Id. at 320-21 (quoting Phillips v. Oneida Motor Freight, Inc., 163 N.J. Super. 297, 303 (App. Div. 1978).

Petitioner relies on Bunk v. Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J., 144 N.J. 176 (1996), to support her contention that the fact that she and her husband lived in New Jersey is sufficient to create jurisdiction under New Jersey's workers' compensation law. We do not find that case authority for her position. The question in Bunk was whether the injured worker could collect both workers' compensation and a disability pension. Id. at 180. The Court was never called upon to address the question of jurisdiction.

Petitioner also relies upon Dissell v. Trans World Airlines, 511 A.2d 441 (Me.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 948, 107 S.Ct. 433, 93 L.Ed. 2d 382 (1986), to support her contention that residency in New Jersey is sufficient to create jurisdiction under our workers' compensation law. Again, we do not agree. First, courts are not free to enlarge the statutory grant of limited jurisdiction to the workers' compensation courts. Bey v. Truss Systems, Inc., 360 N.J. Super. 324, 327 (App. Div. 2003) (stating, "[the] jurisdiction [of the workers' compensation court] is limited to that granted by the Legislature and therefore 'cannot be inflated by . . . judicial inclination.'") (citation omitted).

In addition, the exercise of jurisdiction in that case was not premised solely on the petitioner's residence. Petitioner in that case was a flight attendant who resided in Maine but whose work base was Boston. She was injured on a flight that originated in Boston and that terminated in Chicago. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court found no other state had an interest that predominated over Maine's interest in affording redress to a resident. Dissell, supra, 511 A.2d at 445. Here, however, another state, New York, does have an interest: Mr. Grouzalis worked in New York, the incident occurred in New York, and the vast majority of the employer-employee contacts occurred in New York. Additionally, New Jersey is not confronted with the prospect of one of its residents not receiving redress: petitioner is receiving benefits under New York's workers' compensation law and has received compensation from the 9/11 fund.

We concur with the analysis of the judge of compensation; petitioner was unable to demonstrate sufficient employment contacts with New Jersey to justify New Jersey's workers' compensation division exercising jurisdiction.

The order of dismissal is affirmed.


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