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Berardi v. Rutter

Decided: October 8, 1956.

NICHOLAS P. BERARDI, APPELLANT,
v.
JOSEPH D. RUTTER, RESPONDENT. IN THE MATTER OF THE HEARING ON AN ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE WHY THE PRIVATE DETECTIVE LICENSE, NO. 671, ISSUED TO NICHOLAS P. BERARDI SHOULD NOT BE REVOKED FOR CAUSE



Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clapp, S.j.a.d.

Clapp

This is an appeal by Nicholas P. Berardi from an order of the Superintendent of State Police revoking his license as a private detective. N.J.S.A. 45:19-12.

Three years after receiving his license, Berardi entered a plea of nolo contendere to an information returned in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, charging him with a violation of 26 U.S.C.A. 3616(a). The statute makes it a misdemeanor to deliver

"* * * to the collector * * * any false or fraudulent * * * return * * * with intent to * * * evade the * * * assessment intended to be made * * *."

Berardi was accused of having falsely claimed exemptions in 1951 for his mother and son on the ground that they were dependent upon him. A judgment of conviction was entered on the plea, and though sentence was suspended, Berardi was fined $500 and placed on probation for five years.

On the hearing below, it was stipulated that the sole question before the Superintendent was whether under N.J.S.A. 45:19-12 the plea of nolo contendere and the conviction and sentence, in themselves, constitute sufficient cause warranting disciplinary action by the Superintendent; and that for that reason it would not be necessary to produce any witnesses other than Berardi. N.J.S.A. 45:19-12 provides that the license

"shall be revocable by the superintendent after hearing for cause." (Italics added)

The Superintendent in his findings concluded that a person convicted of a misdemeanor in the federal court, fined and placed on probation, as stated, was not fit to hold a private detective's license and that this conviction and sentence constituted cause for revoking his license.

Appellant's first point before us constitutes an attack upon the constitutionality of the above quoted provision of N.J.S.A. 45:19-12, on the ground that the term "cause" is so indefinite as to contravene the due process clauses in the State and Federal Constitutions and render the statute void for vagueness and so inadequate as a standard as to constitute an improper grant of power to the executive department. That a standard is necessary when the Legislature confers upon an administrative officer or agency a quasi -judicial function, such as an authority to grant or revoke licenses, see State v. Wheeler Auto Driving School, Inc. , 17 N.J. Super. 488, 495 (App. Div. 1952); 6 Rutgers L. Rev. 43, 47 (1951); cf. Abelson's, Inc. v. N.J. State Board of Optometrists , 5 N.J. 412, 424 (1950). An adequate basic standard would, however, satisfy not only the rule as to standards but also the rule arising under the due process clause, which renders a penal statute void for vagueness. See Abelson's, Inc., supra; 6 Rutgers L. Rev. 43, 48, 49 (1951); cf. Jordan v. De George , 341 U.S. 223, 230, 231, 71 S. Ct. 703, 95 L. Ed. 886, 892 (1950).

It is elementary that a court will, if reasonably possible, put a construction upon a statute which will render it constitutional; and that only where it clearly violates the constitution, will it be struck down. It is elementary also that in deciding whether a term, such as "cause," provides an adequate standard, the court will not confine its attention to the term itself, but must examine the entire statute in the light of its surroundings and objectives. Ward v. Scott , 11 N.J. 117, 123 (1952).

An examination of the entire statute here discloses, among other things, that the Superintendent of State Police may refuse to issue a private detective's license if he is not "satisfied" as ...


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