Katzenstein vs. Dollar General: Standard of Review in Appealing Workers Comp Claims
Submitted by New Jersey Workers Compensation Attorney, Jeffrey Hark.
What is the standard of review by the Appellate Division of a Workers Compensation Court Judge’s decision? I have written about this standard of review several times, however, reading this case once again anyone can clearly see the effect the trial judge has when s/he makes determinations of veracity, credibility, and a determination of the facts. As a result, a solid handle on the facts which will come out, the manor in which petitioner testifies, and the documents which will be used against him come into play! This case reveals the interplay and effect of an Unemployment Compensation claim made by the petitioner once fired from an employer who was injured on the job and attempting to make a simultaneous comp claim.
The Appellate Division standard of review is as follows:
“[a]ppellate review of workers’ compensation cases is ‘limited to whether the findings made could have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record . . . with due regard also to the agency’s expertise[.]'” Hersh v. County of Morris, 217 N.J. 236, 242 (2014) (alteration in original) (quoting Sager v. O.A. Peterson Constr., Co., 182 N.J. 156, 164 (2004)). Deference is given to the factual findings of judge of compensation who has the opportunity to assess the witnesses’ credibility from hearing and observing their testimony. Lindquist v. Jersey City Fire Dep’t., 175 N.J. 244, 262 (2003) (citing Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)). Those findings should not be reversed unless they are “‘manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with competent relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice.’” Id. at 262-63 (quoting Perez v. Monmouth Cable Vision, 278 N.J. Super. 275, 282 (App. Div. 1994), certif. denied, 140 N.J. 277 (1995)). Yet, the judge’s “interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts are not entitled to any special deference.” Manalapan Realty v. Manalapan Twp. Comm., 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995) (citations omitted); see also Auletta v. Bergen Ctr. for Child Dev., 338 N.J. Super. 464, 470 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 169 N.J. 611 (2001).
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