Client: Monmouth County
Appeal Argued by Carla P. Aldarelli
Recently, in Joseph v. Monmouth County, A-4144-13T3 (App. Div. December 14, 2015), the Supreme Court of New Jersey denied certification of the Appellate Division’s affirmation of the trial court’s dismissal of this case.
Lesley Joseph, a nursing supervisor, worked at a nursing home owned by Monmouth County. On June 9, 2011, Mr. Joseph was resting in the break room when his female assistant attacked him with a hammer, causing multiple injuries and cuts to his face and head. Police and paramedics responded and took Joseph to the hospital. Joseph filed a workers’ compensation claim. Following an investigation the County questioned the compensability of the claim based upon the circumstances surrounding the attack.
Through its investigation, the County learned that Joseph had become involved in a pyramid scheme run by his assistant. This scheme, called a “susu,” required an investment in which participants put money into a pot and then took turns sharing the amounts collected. An example was provided where 20 employees would contribute $100 each week, then over the course of 20 pay periods, each employee would take turns collecting $2,000 during his or her assigned week. No interest was paid.
Joseph participated in the pyramid scheme on three occasions. He never collected any funds. Trouble began when Joseph became concerned that his assistant said she had an upcoming wedding. On June 9, 2011, Joseph approached his assistant to discuss her shift, however, he then told her that everyone in the “susu” was upset because people in the pool who were supposed to be paid the week prior had not yet been paid. The assistant admitted that she used some of the “susu” money. Shortly thereafter the assistant attacked petitioner and eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The Honorable Lionel Simon III, Supervising Judge of Compensation, Monmouth Vicinage, held that the confrontation between the two employees did not arise from work but rather from the fact that Joseph felt he was not going to be paid from the “susu” on time. Judge Simon further found that there was no nexus with work. The mere fact that the attack happened at work was not sufficient to establish coverage as it did not arise from work activities. Petitioner appealed the dismissal of his case.
In affirming the Judge of Compensation, The Appellate Court wrote, “Assuming there was no prohibition against sleeping in the break room, petitioner’s claim still could not be sustained because its origins were only related to his involvement in the susu scheme, a personal connection to the assistant that resulted in injuries for reasons wholly unrelated to their employment.” The Court said that the attack arose from personal motivation and was not attributable to a risk of employment. “Had petitioner not been a participant in his assistant’s susu, the attack would not have occurred. Once he became involved and questioned his assistant about the ‘invested’ money, he was attacked at a location that just happened to be their place of employment.”
The petitioner argued that work brought the two employees together and created the conditions that resulted in the confrontation. However, the Judge of Compensation and the Appellate Division both noted that this was a case where the disagreement between the two employees arose from purely personal reasons unrelated to the work that they performed at the county nursing home.
Following the Appellate Division’s affirmation of this case, Joseph petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court for certification. The Supreme Court denied the Petition for Certification and assessed costs against Joseph.
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