NICHOLAS BELFIORE, PHYLLIS CAPELLI, JOHN COLEGROVE, RAY FALCO, JUDE FITZGIBBONS, JOSEPH E. PELUSO, JR., LOUIS PICARDO, NANCY SCIANCALEPORE, LOUISE TAGLIERE, LAWRENCE F. THORPE, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
CITY OF HOBOKEN, Defendant-Respondent, VINCENT ANDREULA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CITY OF HOBOKEN, MAYOR AND COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF HOBOKEN, Defendants-Respondents.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued October 7, 2013.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket Nos. L-5917-09 and L-2498-10.
Bruce D. Leder argued the cause for appellants (Cohen, Leder, Montalbano & Grossman, LLC, attorneys; Michael A. McLaughlin, on the brief).
Arnold R. Gerst argued the cause for respondents (Weiner, Lesniak, LLP, attorneys; Mr. Gerst, of counsel; Jeanne Ann McManus, on the brief).
Before Judges Parrillo and Harris.
Plaintiffs —— now-retired City of Hoboken employees —— sued the city for breach of contract in two separate actions. After an adverse determination from a consolidated bench trial, they appeal from the December 20, 2011 judgment dismissing their complaints with prejudice. We reverse.
We glean the following facts from the three-day trial conducted in November 2011. On February 6, 2008, while reeling from economic setbacks, Hoboken's governing body approved Resolution 08-49, which created a Voluntary Severance Incentive Program (VSIP) for certain city employees. The express purpose of the VSIP was to address "budgetary constraints" that the city was facing while also avoiding a "forcible reduction in [the] labor force." The ostensible goal of the VSIP was to "ensure that government is operated at a level that taxpayers can afford" by monetarily incentivizing the retirement of highly paid municipal workers.
Under the VSIP, a city employee could resign from his or her current position, and in return would receive a severance payment described as the following:
[A] specified percentage of the employee's annual base salary . . . payable in five (5) equal annual payments starting on a date established by the [city's] Administration. The Administration shall base the bonus severance payment upon the employee's length of service, but in no event shall the payment be less than 10% nor exceed 100% of the employee's annual base salary.
 This severance payment is to be considered a bonus, not salary, is not pensionable and shall not affect the amount of terminal leave nor any other payments to which an employee would ordinarily be entitled to receive upon separation of employment from the City of Hoboken.
Any employees participating in the VSIP had to complete the necessary paperwork and actually resign by December 31, 2008.
The city's administration subsequently contacted numerous employees, including plaintiffs, offering them the opportunity to participate in the VSIP. Plaintiffs, as well as more than two dozen other employees, accepted the offer.
Upon acceptance, the city's business administrator prepared a one-page form, titled a "Severance Package, " for each employee, which outlined the specific terms of that individual's VSIP. For example, the April 1, 2008 Severance Package signed by plaintiff Nicholas Belfiore stated, in pertinent part, the following:
95% of your 6/30/08 base salary $55, 677.60 will be paid on your date of separation in five (5) payments, yearly, with the first payment of $11, 135.52 ...