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Brotspies v. Department of Civil Service

Decided: February 21, 1962.


Goldmann, Freund and Foley. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.


In their initial attack upon the written examination given by the Department of Civil Service for the position of Supervisor of Case Work, Essex County, plaintiffs challenged 10 of the 110 questions marked and the correctness of the Department's answers. The parties consented that a single judge, sitting on behalf of the Appellate Division, conduct a hearing, consider the arguments made and determine the matter. After reviewing the Department's questions and answers, and the unsuccessful candidates' objections and the manner in which the examination was prepared and conducted, this court concluded that there was no reason for judicial intervention, saying:

"* * * Plaintiffs failed to establish that the questions were not fair and clearly put, or that they did not explore an area of knowledge and information appropriate to the Supervisor of Case Work position. The questions emanate from an entirely responsible and expert source, the Division of State Merit Systems of the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and are the result of careful preparation and pretesting. The answers considered correct by that Division, as well as by respondent Department which has adopted them, have not been shown to be unreasonable or implausible. We are persuaded that respondent exercised a reasonable administrative judgment in finding its answers more appropriate than those for which plaintiffs contend." (Brotspies v. Dept. of Civil Service , 66 N.J. Super. 492, at pages 498-499.)

We directed that

"* * * The appeal may proceed to a determination of any other questions raised by appellants in challenging the Department's decision that the examination for Supervisor of Case Work was in all respects in accordance with Civil Service rules and regulations and found to be in good order, and declaring plaintiffs to have failed to obtain a passing grade in the written test so as not to be eligible to take the oral examination." (at page 499)

There were ten appellants originally, now reduced to nine because, according to the representation made by the Attorney General, Sally Wick has indicated she does not desire to pursue the matter. In this second phase of the appeal, appellants maintain that (1) due to manifest errors in its preparation, the examination did not fairly test the applicants and therefore should be declared void; and (2) the refusal of the Civil Service Commission to explain the method it used in preparing the examination and grading the questions is so arbitrary as to justify cancelling the examination. By this latter contention appellants are in effect asking us to reconsider what was essentially the basis of their attack upon the ten questions earlier challenged in this appeal.

Before proceeding to a discussion of appellants' first point, we note that by telegram as well as letter, both dated September 8, 1959, some 21 unsuccessful candidates notified the Civil Service Chief Examiner and Secretary that they appealed the Case Work Supervisor examination on the basis of "mechanical errors," the fact the examination was not validated, and because the subject matter did not pertain to the duties and title of the position. The Chief Examiner and Secretary thereupon reviewed the examination in accordance with Civil Service Rule 38, found it to be in order, and notified the objectors that candidates who had failed to achieve a passing grade in the written test would not be permitted to take the oral test. The unsuccessful candidates then wrote the President of the Civil Service Commission asking for a hearing because the examination

had not properly been validated, a number of questions were eliminated subsequent to the examination, there were mechanical errors which tended to confuse and distort the meaning of the questions, a number of questions had official answers which were subject to controversy because they did not fairly test the applicants' fitness, certain of the answers were factually incorrect and, finally, the examination did not meet the standards set forth in R.S. 11:9-3. In reply to this renewed challenge of the examination, the candidates were again notified that no further review was indicated and the Department of Civil Service considered the matter closed. Ten candidates then launched this appeal.

Subsequently, at a conference conducted by the deputy attorney general on behalf of the Department, at which Department Director of Examinations Boyd, three of the appellants and their attorney were present, the following were agreed upon:

1. Although the examination booklet announced there were 125 questions, it contained only 123, serially numbered 1 to 123, with two exceptions: there was no question No. 96, and there were two questions No. 116.

2. All candidates completed the entire examination except for an occasional omission.

3. Five questions were duplicated in the list of 123, namely 86 and 99, 89 and 105, 92 and 97, 94 and 101, 95 and 98. The answers to the questions so duplicated, i.e. , questions Nos. 97, 98, 99, 101 and 105, were not taken into account in grading the papers.

4. The answers to questions Nos. 117 to 123, inclusive, were not counted in the grading because it had been determined that they were not applicable to the ...

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