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Residency Alone is Not Enough

New Jersey
September 12, 2019
October 18, 2019
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When determining whether jurisdiction over out-of-state work injuries is proper, there has always been a question whether New Jersey residency, alone, was enough to confer jurisdiction in New Jersey.  Until now, this issue has never been addressed by the courts.  

On July 22, 2019, the appellate division affirmed the Division of Compensation Judge and agreed that New Jersey residency, alone, is not enough to confer jurisdiction.  Marconi v. United Airlines, Docket No. 1-0110-18T4 (App. Div. 2019).  In that case, Marconi lived in New Jersey continuously since 1988.  He was hired in San Francisco in 1986, began working at Philadelphia International Airport in 1988, was displaced due to furlough in 2009 and transferred to Dulles, and transferred back to Philadelphia in 2012, and worked there ever since.  

Marconi was injured out-of-state and brought his workers’ compensation claim in New Jersey arguing that residency, alone, is enough to establish jurisdiction.  As support for his argument, Marconi relied upon Bunk v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 144 N.J. 176, 180-181 (1996).  In that case, a New Jersey resident employed by the Port Authority was injured in a work related truck accident in New York. Bunk, at the time of the accident, was a public employee receiving a disability pension and became ineligible for permanency benefits.  While discussing the issues presented in connection with the disability pension, the court, in a single sentence, states “as a resident of New Jersey, Bunk can bring his action in New Jersey.” Id. at 181.  In Marconi, the court dismisses this argument and notes that it is dicta as it was not germane to the legal issue at hand and, therefore, not binding.  In furthering its reasoning, the court in Marconi notes that there is no reported decision that states that residency, alone, is enough to confer jurisdiction on an extraterritorial workplace injury and determined that the courts have always required more than this.    

Another important aspect of this case is that the court defines what it means for an employer to be “localized” in the state, which is the fourth Larson’s factor used to consider whether to apply a particular state’s workers’ compensation act.  

As an alternative argument, Marconi argued that his residency coupled with the employer’s “localization” in the state of New Jersey established jurisdiction.  Marconi’s supervisor in Philadelphia reported to a United employee at Newark’s Liberty International Airport.  Although never stationed at Newark, Marconi frequently depended on the technical advice of United’s staff at that airport and would call once every couple of months for assistance.  Marconi received training all over the world, including Newark.  Marconi would fly from Newark whenever United assigned him to do field service. Marconi requisitioned parts from United’s Chicago and San Francisco operations, but these would routinely be delivered first to Newark and then to Marconi in Philadelphia.  Marconi’s supervisor sometimes would drive to United’s facility in Newark to retrieve parts delivered there.  Based upon these facts, Marconi argued that because United is localized in Newark, this factor, coupled with residency, established jurisdiction.  

The court in Marconi was unable to locate any reported decision in which defines “localization.”  After reviewing case law from a variety of other states, the court explained that localization is the nature and frequency of the employee’s relationship with the localized presence of the employer.  In other words, in this case, did Marconi’s duties to a substantial extent, implement the located business of United in New Jersey? The court decided that it did not.  The court reasoned that Marconi’s contacts with United’s Newark hub were, in large part, to advance Marconi’s ability to perform his work in Philadelphia.  Even when Marconi used United’s facilities at Liberty International Airport, it was to serve United’s interests elsewhere around the country.  Essentially, nothing in the course of Marconi’s two decade employment with United advanced the company’s localized interests in New Jersey.

The trend in decisions was starting to make New Jersey a much more available venue for out of state work injuries.  However, this case certainly pulls back the reins and takes a much more conservative approach which should help lessen the amount of claims being brought in New Jersey for out of state work injuries.