Appealing an Agency Decision in New Jersey to the Appellate Division
EBONY BROWN, v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES, POLICE AND FIREMEN’S RETIREMENT SYSTEM, Decided February 11, 2019
Submitted by New Jersey Worker’s Compensation Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
Am I entitled to make a accidental disability benefit claim against my public sector employer for my work related injury ?? How do I proceed? This case addresses one specific threshold question regarding how your injury happened and whether or was an undesigned and unexpected event. In this unreported appellate panel decision the panel briefly outlines the legal threshold need to overturn an agency/board decision. The key to this appellate panel reversal was Board’s inaccurate interpretation of the facts as they applied to the legal issue and the legislative objectives. In addition, this appellate panel announced that it also did not have to follow “other’ unreported decision’ nor be persuaded by them because they were not precedential case law. Please read the footnote at the bottom of this blog!
We recognize our courts owe deference to the Board and other pension agencies in their implementation of the retirement benefits statutes. Russo v. Bd. of Trs., Police & Fireman’s Ret. Sys., 206 N.J. 14, 27 (2011). Even so, we are not “bound by an agency’s interpretation of a statute or its determination of a strictly legal issue, particularly when that interpretation is inaccurate or contrary to legislative objectives.” Mount v. Bd. of Trs., Police & Firemen’s Ret. Sys., 233 N.J. 402, 418-19 (2018) (internal citations omitted). Instead, “we review de novo the Board’s interpretation of N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1) and our case law.” Id. at 419. In this instance, the Board reached an incorrect legal conclusion in applying the law to the record facts.1 We therefore hold that Brown is eligible for the accidental disability retirement benefits.
We respectfully decline to follow the outcomes in certain unpublished opinions that upheld the denial of accidental disability retirement benefits in door-closing or gate-closing contexts that arguably share some characteristics with the present case. Those opinions are non-precedential and we do not cite or reflexively follow them. R. 1:36-3.