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Cammarata v. Essex County Park Commission

Decided: April 3, 1958.

AUGUSTINE V. CAMMARATA AND RICHARD COSTA, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
ESSEX COUNTY PARK COMMISSION AND ROBERT B. KINSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On certification granted.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Heher, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs, Francis and Proctor. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Wachenfeld, J.

Wachenfeld

[26 NJ Page 407] This is an action in lieu of prerogative writ whereby plaintiffs seek "reinstatement" as members of the Park Police of Essex County, contending that they were illegally dismissed in violation of the tenure provisions of the County Parks Act. The Superior Court, Law Division, entered judgment directing the Essex County Park Commission to "restore" plaintiffs to their positions, but the

Appellate Division reversed. We granted plaintiffs' petition for certification.

On June 17, 1954 the Essex County Park Commission authorized its police director, defendant Robert B. Kinsey, to commence examination of applicants who had applied for appointment as park police patrolmen, with a view toward filling a number of vacancies then existing on the force. At the same time, the commission unanimously approved a motion "that any person qualifying for a position as a patrolman on the Park Police of the County of Essex be employed for a probationary period of one year, during which time, upon recommendation of the Chief to the Board, the man's services may be discontinued, and at the end of the probationary period appointments to the force would be made only upon the report of the Chief that the individual had qualified."

Plaintiffs Cammarata and Costa applied for appointments as patrolmen in February of 1955. After they had taken the requisite examinations and been personally interviewed, each man was notified by a letter dated March 4, 1955 that he would be appointed a "probationary Patrolman" effective March 25, 1955. Each of these letters stated: "Your appointment to this Department is subject to your clearly understanding and accepting the provisions shown on the sheet attached hereto."

The "sheet" referred to is entitled "Information for Applicants for Appointment as Probationary Patrolmen." Its first paragraph reads:

"Applicants successfully meeting the requirements of the Department will be appointed for a probationary period of one year and will be sworn in as probationary members of the Department. During said period of probation, if at any time in the opinion of the superior officers of the Department, the Director, the Police Committee or the Essex County Park Commission an applicant does not continue to justify his employment, he may be immediately terminated. At the termination of his probationary period, the applicant's record in the Department for the preceding year will be reviewed and if found satisfactory, he will become a regularly appointed Patrolman in the Department. Failure to qualify will preclude appointment to the department."

Cammarata and Costa each signed and returned an "Information for Applicants for Appointment as Probationary Patrolmen" form to the police director, affixing his respective signature directly beneath a provision reading: "I hereby certify that I have read, understand, acknowledge and accept the information and regulations stated above."

Four other applicants were hired by the park commission on a probationary basis at the same time as plaintiffs. During the course of their year of probation the performance of each was investigated and assessed several times by an evaluation committee. Near the end of the year, the committee's findings were reviewed by the chief of the park police, the Police Director of the Essex County Parks and an independent personnel expert. This reviewing body found that four of the probationary patrolmen had met the requirements of the department and that two had not. The park commission accepted the recommendations of the reviewing board and accordingly, on March 15, 1956, resolved that four "Probationary Patrolmen" be "appointed Regular Patrolmen of the Park Police Department" and that "the services of Augustine V. Cammarata and Richard F. Costa, those Probationary Patrolmen failing to qualify for appointment, be terminated. * * *"

R.S. 40:37-156 provides in part as follows:

"No member or officer of the police force or police department shall be removed except after trial and conviction by the park commission, or a member or members thereof, of the violation of proper rules and regulations for the appointment, control and management of members of such force or department and ...


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