Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the scope of a municipality's obligation to disclose electronically stored information in accordance with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Plaintiff John Paff filed a request with Galloway Township's records custodian for specific information in emails sent by the Township's Municipal Clerk and Chief of Police over a two-week period. From those emails, Paff sought only information contained within the following fields: sender, recipient, date, and subject. Paff did not request the contents of the emails. The Township contended that only the emails (not specific information embedded within them) were government records subject to disclosure under OPRA. On that basis, the Township denied the records request. The trial court ordered the production of the fields of information sought by Paff because OPRA defined a government record as information stored or maintained electronically by a municipality. A panel of the Appellate Division reversed, concluding that OPRA required only the production of the emails, not information electronically stored within them. The Supreme Court held the Appellate Division's overly constrictive reading of OPRA "cannot be squared with OPRA s objectives or statutory language." The Appellate Division erred in finding that the government record is the email itself and not the easily accessible fields of information that were maintained electronically. View "Paff v. Galloway Township" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners-parolees challenged the constitutionality of the practices of the New Jersey State Parole Board in administering polygraph examinations to sex offenders serving either parole supervision for life (PSL) or community supervision for life (CSL) sentences. . Although it recognized the controversy concerning polygraph examination accuracy, the trial court explained that the Parole Board exercised care in incorporating exam results into decision-making and never used the results as the exclusive basis to justify a modification of parole. Further, the trial court found expert testimony indicating that polygraph examinations were a valuable tool in the therapeutic treatment of sex offenders to be particularly compelling. The Appellate Division thereafter upheld the Parole Board’s use of polygraph testing, subject to certain restrictions. The Supreme Court upheld the Parole Board’s use of polygraph testing with the same limitations as the Appellate Division, but added that the Parole Board’s regulations had to be further supplemented to buttress the parolees’ Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. View "J.B. v. New Jersey State Parole Board" on Justia Law

by
The Washington Township Education Association was the major union representative for employees of the Robbinsville Township Board of Education. Relevant to the events in this matter, the Board and the Association were bound by a collective negotiation agreement during the period of July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011. According to Article 5.3 of the Agreement, the teachers salaries were based on the number of school-year work days, which contract negotiations established to be 188 days for new teachers and 185 days for all other teachers. On March 17, 2010, during a time of declared fiscal emergency, the State notified the Board that State education funding to the district would be reduced by fifty-eight percent for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year. Reeling from that significant funding reduction, the Board took action: it revised its budget for the next school year by cutting educational programs, freezing salaries, and laying off approximately thirteen teaching and staff positions. Because those attempts were insufficient to balance the school district's budget, on March 19, 2010, the Board asked the Association to re-open contract negotiations for the 2010-2011 school year. The Association, citing its members best interests, declined to re-open discussions mid-contract. The Association also did not respond to the Board s subsequent request on April 13 to reconsider re-opening negotiations. The Board announced a decision to impose involuntary furlough days on teachers, knowing that the furloughed days would impact the affected employees' wages. An unfair labor charge was filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). The Appellate Division granted summary judgment in favor of the Board. But the Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Appellate Division's decision was based on an overly broad and mistaken reading of the controlling case-law for this matter. View "In the Matter of Robbinsville Twp. Bd. of Education v. Washington Township Education Assn." on Justia Law

by
The Township of Bloomfield (Township) declined to release a day's worth of videotape footage from a security camera attached to the second story of Bloomfield Town Hall, adjacent to the police station. The request came from a citizen request pursuant to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). According to the Township, allowing unrestricted access to security camera videotape -- which would reveal not only what is and is not captured by the security camera, but also when and how well it is captured -- would undermine the purpose of having a security camera system protecting the buildings and people within them. The Township asserted that the security exclusions of OPRA permitted withholding the videotape. The Supreme Court agreed with this assertion and held security exclusions precluded disclosure under OPRA of the videotape requested in this matter. View "Gilleran v. Township of Bloomfield" on Justia Law

by
In 2010, the Township of Franklin (the Township) adopted an ordinance revising its regulation of signs, including billboards. The ordinance permits billboards, subject to multiple conditions, in a zoning district proximate to an interstate highway but expressly prohibited digital billboards anywhere in the municipality. A company seeking to install a digital billboard challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance. The Law Division declared unconstitutional that portion of the ordinance barring digital billboards. The trial court viewed the Township's treatment of such devices as a total ban on a mode of communication. In a reported opinion, the Appellate Division reversed. Applying the "Central Hudson" commercial speech standard and the "Clark/Ward" time, place, and manner standard to content-neutral regulations affecting speech, the appellate panel determined that the ban on digital billboards passed constitutional muster. The Supreme Court disagreed: "simply invoking aesthetics and public safety to ban a type of sign, without more, does not carry the day." The Court declared the 2010 ban on digital billboards as unconstitutional and reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "E&J Equities v. Board of Adjustment of Franklin Township" on Justia Law

by
In 2013, the State Board of Nursing invoked N.J.A.C. 13:37-1.3(c)(2) to deny accreditation to the Licensed Practical Nurse to Registered Nurse Bridge Program (Bridge Program), a nursing program instituted by Eastwick College (Eastwick). Interpreting the term graduating class in N.J.A.C. 13:37-1.3(c)(2) to include all graduates of the program who took the licensing examination during a given calendar year, regardless of the year a particular student graduated from the program, the Board found that Eastwick's Bridge Program's first and second graduating classes failed to achieve the 75% pass rate mandated by the regulation. Eastwick appealed the Board's determination, challenging the methodology used by the Board to calculate the pass rate of the Bridge Program's graduates on the licensing examination. Eastwick contended that only students who graduated during a specific calendar year and took the licensing examination in that year should be included in that year's graduating class. Using that methodology, Eastwick argued that its second graduating class had a pass rate in excess of 75%, and that the Board improperly declined to accredit its nursing program. An Appellate Division panel affirmed the Board's determination denying accreditation. Based on the plain language of N.J.A.C. 13:37-1.3(c)(2), the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the Board's construction of its regulation was plainly unreasonable, and accordingly held that the Board improperly denied accreditation to Eastwick's Bridge Program. The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division's judgment affirming the Board's action, and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of the Revocation or the Suspension of the Provisional Accreditation of and/or the Imposition of Probation on Eastwick College LPN-to-RN Bridge Program" on Justia Law

by
The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this case was whether the 2011 suspension of State pension cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) contravened a term of the contract right granted under the earlier enacted non-forfeitable right statute, L.1997, c.113 (codified as N.J.S.A.43:3C-9.5). Qualifying members of the State's public pension systems or funds were granted a non-forfeitable right to receive benefits as provided under the laws governing the retirement system or fund. By codifying that non-forfeitable right to receive benefits, the Legislature provided that the benefits program, for any employee for whom the right has attached, could not be reduced. Whether COLAs were part of the benefits program protected by N.J.S.A. 43:3C-9.5 depended on whether the Legislature, in enacting N.J.S.A. 43:3C-9.5(a) and (b), intended to create a contractual right to COLAs. The Supreme Court found in this instance, proof of unequivocal intent to create a non-forfeitable right to yet-unreceived COLAs was lacking. Although both plaintiff retirees and the State advanced plausible arguments on that question, "the lack of such unmistakable legislative intent dooms plaintiffs' position." The Court concluded that the Legislature retained its inherent sovereign right to act in its best judgment of the public interest and to pass legislation suspending further COLAs. Having determined that there was no contract violation, and because the additional arguments advanced by plaintiffs were not meritorious, the Court reversed the Appellate Division's judgment holding to the contrary. View "Berg v. Christie" on Justia Law

by
The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was a narrow one of appellate jurisdiction of an agency decision and the appropriate response by an appellate tribunal when it encounters on its calendar an interlocutory order from which leave to appeal was neither sought nor granted. A school principal was returned to teaching due to a reduction-in-force (RIF), which included elimination of all vice-principal positions throughout the school district. The principal filed a petition with the Commissioner of Education to establish her tenure and seniority rights as a vice-principal. Her employer, the Board of Education of the City of Elizabeth, challenged the validity of her principal certification, which challenge, if successful, affected her tenure and seniority rights. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) adopted the Elizabeth Board's position, but the Commissioner rejected the Initial Decision and remanded the matter to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for calculation of the principal's tenure and seniority rights. The ALJ complied, the Commissioner adopted the Initial Decision, and the Elizabeth Board appealed. The Appellate Division held that the Commissioner's first decision was a final order from which the Elizabeth Board could have filed an appeal as of right. Having failed to do so, the panel concluded that the Elizabeth Board waived its right to appeal the Commissioner's first decision. The appellate panel raised the issue of the timeliness of the appeal sua sponte and determined that the Commissioner's first decision rejecting the ALJ s Initial Decision was a final order from which the employer should have taken an appeal. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the Commissioner's order became a final decision from which an appeal could be filed as of right only when the Commissioner adopted the decision of the ALJ following the remand proceedings. The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "Silviera-Francisco v. Bd. of Education of the City of Elizabeth" on Justia Law

by
In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the standard governing revocation of direct access from a state highway to property used for commercial purposes pursuant to the State Highway Access Management Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 27:7-89 to -98, and the State Highway Access Management Code (Access Code), N.J.A.C. 16:47-3.5(e)(11) and -3.8(k)(2). Arielle Realty, L.L.C. was the owner of a three-tenant commercial property located on the northbound side of Route 166 in Toms River. The DOT informed Arielle that access to its property from Route 166 would be eliminated because the DOT intended to construct an additional northbound travel lane. The DOT also advised Arielle that it intended to construct a median to separate northbound and southbound traffic on Route 166. This design would eliminate the eight parking spaces in the front of the building. The plan would also prevent direct access to Arielle s property for motorists traveling south on Route 166 because a motorist would no longer be able to make a left-hand turn onto West Gateway. According to the DOT design plan, a southbound motorist on Route 166, who intends to access Arielle s property, would be required to drive past the property, turn right onto a local road, turn right onto another local road, turn left onto Route 166 at an intersection controlled by a traffic signal, and turn right onto West Gateway. This alternative route traversed approximately three-quarters of a mile. In affirming the DOT Commissioner's decision, the Appellate Division determined that the DOT met its burden of proof that the alternative access plan was not only reasonable but also provided a convenient, direct, and well-marked means to enter the business and to return to the state road. Accordingly, the Appellate Division determined that the property owner failed to overcome the presumption of validity accorded to the DOT design. The Supreme Court affirmed: "the Commissioner's analysis is ultimately aimed at selecting the plan that will best achieve the overarching goal of providing reasonable access to the state's system of highways rather than maximizing the business interests of a particular property owner." View "In re Revocation of the Access of Block #613" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review concerned a challenge to the validity of a municipal ordinance authorizing the issuance of $6,300,000 in bonds to finance a redevelopment project in the Township of West Orange. Plaintiffs filed an action in lieu of prerogative writs claiming that the Township failed to secure the statutorily required approval for the bond ordinance from the Local Finance Board, which is a part of the Division of Local Government Services within New Jersey's Department of Community Affairs. As a result, plaintiffs claim the bond ordinance was invalid. The trial court dismissed the action because plaintiffs filed their complaint fifty-three days after final publication of the bond ordinance (well outside the twenty-day period permitted by Rule 4:69-6(b)(11)). The Appellate Division affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court held that because plaintiffs did not present any extraordinary circumstances to allow the trial and appellate courts to consider their claims, those courts properly dismissed plaintiffs' petition. View "In re Petition for Referendum to Repeal Ordinance 2354-12 of the Twp. of W. Orange" on Justia Law