STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff,
MINUSKIN, J. S. C.
Pursuant to R. 3:23-8(a)(3), the State appeals from an order of the Dumont Municipal Court dismissing its complaint against Frech Funeral Home, Inc. for its failure to pay a trainee the overtime mandated by N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4. The novel legal question raised by this appeal is whether, for purposes of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4, a mortician's trainee is employed in a bona fide professional capacity and thereby excepted from the provisions of that statute.
Before reaching the substantive issue of statutory construction, the court must address two threshold questions. First is the determination of the applicable statute of limitations, and second is whether defendant is entitled to a trial by jury. The resolution of both these questions depends upon whether a violation of the overtime statute is a disorderly persons offense under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, N.J.S.A. 2C:1-1 et seq., or a misdemeanor under N.J.S.A. 2A:1-1 et seq.
The factual context in which all of these questions are raised
is as follows. On January 26, 1981 the Department of Labor and Industry,
Office of Wage and Hour Compliance, filed a [p. 388] 79-count complaint
in the Dumont Municipal Court against Frech Funeral Home, Inc. (Frech),
alleging that it violated N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4 [n. 1] by failing to pay
its trainee Ken Barker, 1 1/2 times his regular hourly rate for each hour
in excess of 40 hours, during the entire period of Barker's employment.
Barker's employment lasted from the week ending August 5, 1977 to the week
ending June 7, 1979. Notwithstanding the admission by defendant of
the factual allegations made by the State, defendant asserts that it is
not guilty of a misdemeanor as provided in N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a22.
I. Statute of Limitations
Defendant relies on N.J.S.A. 2C:1-4 c, which states in pertinent
Insofar as any provision outside the code [New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice] declares an offense to be a misdemeanor when such offense specifically provides a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment or less, whether or not in combination with a fine, such provision shall constitute a disorderly persons offense.
Based on this provision of the Code, defendant argues that since the maximum penalty for violation of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4 does not exceed six months, the offense charged should be viewed as a disorderly persons offense subject to the concomitant [p. 389] one-year statute of limitations set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6 b(2). Thus, it contends that the complaints filed January 26, 1981 must be dismissed since the date of the last alleged illegal activity was June 7, 1979.
The underlying flaw in this analysis is that it ignores the Code's
threshold rules of construction as provided in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-1 b, which
... the code does not apply to offenses committed prior to its effective date [September 1, 1979] and prosecutions and dispositions for such offenses shall be governed by the prior law, which is continued in effect for that purpose, as if this code were not in force. For the purpose of this section, an offense was committed after the effective date of the code if any of the elements of the offense occurred subsequent thereto.
See, State v. Mraovitch, 176 N.J.Super. 141, 145, 422 A.2d 454 (App.Div.1980); State v. Kent, 173 N.J.Super. 215, 221, 418 A.2d 1322 (App.Div.1980); State v. Glass, 171 N.J.Super. 157, 159-160, 408 A.2d 151 (Law Div. 1979).
In arguing the inapplicability of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-1 b defendant
relies on an exception to that rule as provided in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-1 c(1)
In any case pending on or initiated after the effective date of the code involving an offense committed prior to such date:
(1) The procedural provisions of the Code shall govern, insofar as they are justly applicable and their application does not introduce confusion or delay. [emphasis supplied]
Defendant argues that the statute of limitations is a procedural rather than a substantive provision and therefore the code's limitation applies. Thus, the issue is whether in the context of the Code's applicability to pre-Code offenses, the statute of limitations is substantive or procedural.
The substantive-procedural dichotomy is traditionally difficult
to define. The New Jersey Supreme Court notes in Busik v. Levine,
63 N.J. 351, 307 A.2d 571 (1973), that
... it is simplistic to assume that all law is divided neatly between "substance" and "procedure." A rule of procedure may have an impact upon the substantive result and be no less a rule of procedure on that account ... As said in Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 1144, 14 L.Ed.2d 8, 16-17 (1965), "The line between 'substance' and 'procedure' shifts as the legal context changes. Each implies different variables depending upon the particular problem for which it is used.' " One context is conflict of laws; another is retrospective [p. 390] application of statutes; and a third is law- making, [power of the Supreme Court] the subject at hand. [at 364-365, 307 A.2d 571; emphasis supplied]
The categorization of the statute of limitations is an endeavor
not only peculiarly subject to a particular legal context but is also subject
to shifts in legal theory within that context. For instance, as noted
in Busik, supra, it was the general rule that the statute of limitations
in the context of a conflict of laws problem should be regarded as a procedural
issue and, for that reason, governed by the forum's law. Bournias
v. Atlantic Maritime Co., Ltd., 220 F.2d 152 (2 Cir. 1955); Marshall
v. George M. Brewster & Sons, Inc., 37 N.J. 176, 179-182, 180 A.2d
129 (1962); See Restatement, Conflict of Laws 2d, § 142 (1971).
However, in Heavner v. Uniroyal, Inc., 63 N.J. 130, 305A.2d 412 (1973),
a products liability case, the court rejected the general rule. [n. 2]
See Air Products & Chemicals, Inc. v. Fairbanks Morse, Inc., 58 Wis.2d
193, 206 N.W.2d 414 (Sup.Ct.1973).
The Code clearly refers to the statute of limitations as a defense. N.J.S.A. 2C:1-14 h(3)(a). The fact that this defense is [p. 391] substantive in nature has been reinforced by the recent decisions of State v. Molnar, 81 N.J. 475, 488, 410 A.2d 37 (1980), and State v. Galiyano, 178 N.J.Super. 393, 396, 429 A.2d 385 (App.Div.1981), certif. den. 87 N.J. 424, 434 A.2d 1096 (1981), which held that for the purposes of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-1(a)(1) all defenses are substantive.
Accordingly, although the five-year statute of limitations is considerably harsher than the one-year limitation of the Code, the court is bound to conclude that the Code's statute of limitations is not procedural and may not therefore be applied to offenses committed prior to the effective date of the Code.
III. Defense of Good Faith
Defendant's defense of good faith is predicated on N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2,
which provides in pertinent part:
... [N]o employer shall be subject to any liability or punishment for or on account of the failure of the employer to pay ... overtime as required by N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4 if he pleads and proves that the ... omission complained of was in good faith in conformity with and in reliance on any written administrative regulation, order, ruling, approval or interpretation by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor & Industry or Director of the Wage and Hour Bureau, or any administrative practice or enforcement policy of such department or bureau with respect to the class of employers to which he belonged. Such a defense, if established, shall be a complete bar to the action or proceeding.... [Emphasis supplied]
Good faith is generally defined as honesty of intention and freedom from circumstances which ought to put the holder upon inquiry. Siano v. Helvering, 13 F.Supp. 776, 780 (D.C.N.J.1936).
Defendant argues, in essence, that when N.J.A.C. 12:56-4.3 [n.
3] is viewed in the light created by the prism of statutes and [p. 394]
administrative regulations which together define "professional" standards
for the practice of mortuary science, any licensed mortician would in good
faith believe that he, as well as his trainee, function as bona fide professionals
within the definition of a professional set forth in N.J.A.C. 12:56-4.3.
There is no documented legislative history as to the reasons for the shift from the designation of "profession" to "occupation." However, it may reasonably be inferred that this change was made in order to allow morticians to incorporate and receive the resulting tax advantages prior to the time that professionals were allowed to incorporate for that purpose. See N.J.S.A. 14A:17-1 et seq.
Incorporation by morticians was held permissible in Trinka Services
v. Mortuary Science Board, 40 N.J.Super. 238, 122 A.2d 668 (Law Div. [p.
395] 1956). Chief Justice (then Judge) Hughes, focusing on the ancillary
business and trade phases of the practice of mortuary science, found that
those considerations substantially outweigh its professional aspects.
The position of the Board of Mortuary Science was, however, that the classification
of mortuary science as a profession is
... not merely one of nomenclature but of substance ... since ... the realities of the relationship (of such practitioner to the public) embraces obligations such as those reflected in the lawyer-client or doctor-patient relationship ... and therefore the police power extends to their enclosure within the protective and restrictive containment of regulations appertaining to the professions. [Id. at 240, 122 A.2d 668]
The rejection of the Board's argument by the court in Trinka is not dispositive of the issue before this court of whether Frech, acting through its officers, believed in good faith that it was entitled to the professional exemption to N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4.
The court finds, based on testimony adduced at trial, that N.J.S.A. 45:7-32 et seq. empowers the Board of Mortuary Science to adopt rules and regulations in regard to unprofessional conduct and mandates revocation or suspension of a mortician's license for unprofessional conduct. N.J.S.A. 45:7-38; N.J.S.A. 45:7-62.
Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 13:36-3.4(a)15, the licensing examination includes a section on professional ethics. The administrative rules and regulations promulgated by the Board also include a section requiring that "professional services" be listed separately on the final itemized bill. N.J.A.C. 13:36- 1.9(c)(1). Professional services include preparation of the deceased, embalming, supervision and conduct of the funeral. These latter activities are engaged in on a continuous basis by licensed employees of Frech. Ken Barker testified that he was being trained to become proficient in these skills during the time he was a trainee at Frech. In fact, one of the most convincing items presented at trial to substantiate defendant's defense is a letter dated February 24, 1978 and sent by the Board of Mortuary License to Frank Magda, Ken Barker's preceptor, which states in part: "Enclosed is an Application for Trainee Registration for Kenneth [p. 396] Barker. As Preceptor you shall be charged with the professional responsibility to train the applicant to be proficient in the following areas...." (Emphasis supplied).
Thus, the spirit of the Board's argument in Trinka, supra, remains embodied in the myriad of laws and administrative rules, regulations, practices and enforcement policies governing the practice of mortuary science.
The court further finds that it is not unreasonable for defendant
to have assumed, as was testified, that a mortician's training is encompassed
by N.J.A.C. 12:56-4.3(a)li, which is part of the definition of a professional
under the Wage and Hour Law. [n. 4] This section provides:
It was pointed out at trial that a prospective licensee must have taken courses in anatomy, histology, embryology, pathology, chemistry, bacteriology, as well as other specified subjects in order to be prepared for a licensing exam. N.J.A.C. 12:56-4.3. Barker stated he did in fact take such courses. Testimony further revealed that there are schools of mortuary science which can be attended for purposes of reducing the required period of experience as a registered trainee. N.J.A.C. 13:36-3.2.
The court finds, based on testimony revealing the precise and complex nature of the practice of mortuary science, that the other subsections of N.J.A.C. 12:56-4.3, when read in pari materia with N.J.A.C. 13:36-1.1 et seq., support defendant's defense of good faith reliance on the Wage and Hour Laws.
The defense is further supported by the testimony of another funeral home owner, Mr. VanEmburgh, that he never has paid a [p. 397] trainee overtime, for it is not feasible to do so in the context of the unpredictable scheduling of a mortician's job. This latter assertion was verified by Mr. Fleischman, owner of Frech, who added that Barker never once demanded overtime and was well paid for his services.
Finally, the court finds Fleischman's testimony to be credible and that he, as well as other licensed morticians testifying on his behalf, were sincere in their belief that they, as practitioners of mortuary science, are professional, accountable to the public as professionals and that people such as Ken Barker who are being trained to enter their demanding profession are to be considered as functioning in a professional capacity.
The point is that defendant need not be correct in its belief that its employees work in a bona fide professional capacity. Frech need only plead and prove that in good faith it reasonably believes that to be the fact.
Based on the above analysis of the broad statutory and regulatory scheme governing defendant, in conjunction with all evidence received at trial, the court holds that defendant Frech Funeral Home, Inc., acting through its officers and employees, has proved a "good faith" defense under N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2.
Judgment of acquittal shall be entered for defendant.