RIBEIRO V. COSTA-HUGHES

Annotate this Case
SYLLABUS
 

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

MARIA RIBEIRO COSTA-HUGHES v. MULLEN CONSTRUCTION COMPANY (A-14-93)
 

[NOTE: The Court wrote no full opinion in this case. Rather, the Court's affirmance of the judgment of the Appellate Division is based substantially on the reasons expressed in the majority opinion below.]

Argued September 14, 1993 - Decided October 28, 1993

PER CURIAM

The question on appeal is whether the minor daughter of a deceased employee is entitled to full statutory dependency benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 34:15-13.

Susana Costa is the child of Joaquim Costa and Maria Ribeiro Costa-Hughes. Joaquim and Maria were divorced and Maria was granted custody of Susana. At the time of Joaquim's death, Susana was not living as a part of her father's household. Moreover, at the time of his death, Joaquim was paying $80.00 a week for the support of Susana.

Joaquim Costa was employed by Mullen Construction Company (Mullen). After Joaquim's death, a judge of the Division of Workers' Compensation (Division) found that Susana was entitled to full statutory benefits under the Act; that the $80 paid weekly by the father was the same $80 used by the mother to support Susana; and that the child was entitled to full support from each of her parents. The court noted that had her parents resided in the same home, Susana would be entitled to full support from her father, regardless of whether she was being supported by her mother.

Mullen appealed from the judgment of the Division. A majority of the Appellate Division affirmed the determination of the Workers' Compensation court, finding that as a matter of law an infant child of a deceased father is entitled to the compensation due a person wholly dependent on the father, irrespective of the amount actually expended by the father. The court concluded that absent more convincing proofs of the mother's contribution to the child's support, and absent any proofs that a court order, judgment of divorce or property settlement agreement imposed an obligation on the mother to provide a portion of Susana's support, for the purposes of workers' compensation dependency benefits, Susana must be deemed fully dependent on her father.

One member of the Appellate Division panel dissented, finding that the language and purpose of the Act and its interpretation requires a finding that Susana was only partially dependent on her father for her support. The dissent reasoned that the fact that Susana was also dependent on her mother for support renders the child only partially dependent on her father within the meaning of the Act. Moreover, the dissenting member of the panel noted that treating a surviving minor child of divorced parents as fully dependent on the deceased father will almost invariably result, as it did in this case, in the workers' compensation benefits exceeding the weekly support actually contributed by the deceased father during his lifetime. Thus, the majority's interpretation frustrates the legislative intent that compensation benefits should only partially replace the survivor's financial loss.

Mullen appealed as of right based on the dissent in the Appellate Division.

HELD: Judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed substantially for the reasons set forth in the majority opinion below. Susana Costa, the minor child of decedent, is entitled to full dependency benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-13.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILENTZ and JUSTICES CLIFFORD, HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN AND GARIBALDI join in this opinion.

JUSTICE STEIN dissents substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Brochin's dissenting opinion below.

SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
A- 14 September Term 1993

MARIA RIBEIRO COSTA-HUGHES,

Petitioner-Respondent,

v.

MULLEN CONSTRUCTION COMPANY,

Respondent-Appellant.

Argued September 14, 1993 -- Decided October 28, 1993

On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinions are reported at ___ N.J. Super. ___, ___ (1992).

Mark B. Zirulnik argued the cause for appellant (Isaacson, Dougherty & Zirulnik, attorneys; Louis M. Masucci, Jr, on the brief).

Robert A. Greenberg argued the cause for respondent (Ravich, Koster, Tobin, Oleckna, Reitman & Greenstein, attorneys).

PER CURIAM

The judgment is affirmed, substantially for the reasons expressed in the majority opinion for the Appellate Division, reported at ___ N.J. Super. ___ (1992).

SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
A- 14 September Term 1993

MARIA RIBEIRO COSTA-HUGHES,

Petitioner-Respondent,

v.

MULLEN CONSTRUCTION COMPANY,

Respondent-Appellant.

STEIN, J., dissenting.

I would reverse, substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Brochin's dissenting opinion, reported at ___ N.J. Super. ___ (1992).