Foley, Kilkenny and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Kilkenny, J.A.D.
On April 20, 1964 the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance, acting under N.J.S.A. 17:12B-26, approved an application by First Savings & Loan Association of Fair Lawn (hereinafter "Fair Lawn") to establish and maintain a branch office "at the southeast corner of Broadway (New Jersey State Highway Route 4) and Plaza Road, Fair Lawn, Bergen County New Jersey" First Savings & Loan Association of East Paterson (hereinafter "East Paterson") opposed the application, offered evidence in support of its opposition at the public hearings conducted by the Commissioner, and prosecutes this appeal from his final decision.
Before approving a branch office, N.J.S.A. 17:12B-26(2) requires a determination by the Commissioner that:
"(a) the association and the proposed branch meet all of the requirements of sections 25 and 26 of this act, and
(b) the establishment and operation of such branch office is in the public interest and will be of benefit to the area served by such branch, and that
(c) such branch office may be established without undue injury to any other association in the area in which it is proposed to locate such branch office, and that
(d) conditions in the area to be served, afford reasonable promise of successful operation."
The Commissioner expressly determined the existence of each of these four factors in favor of Fair Lawn's application.
We note at the outset the limited scope of our appellate review of administrative findings. We are generally limited to determining whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence. We have the power and the duty to assay the facts, but ordinarily only to determine whether the evidence before the administrative body or officer furnished a reasonable basis for its or his factual conclusions and action. It is not the function of the appellate tribunal to substitute its independent judgment for that of the administrative body or officer where there may exist a mere difference
of opinion concerning the evidential persuasiveness of relevant testimony. If the record discloses substantial evidence to support factual findings of the administrative body or officer, a presumption of reasonableness attaches to its or his findings. Re Application of Millburn-Short Hills Bank, 59 N.J. Super. 470, 473-474 (App. Div. 1959); Elizabeth Federal Savings & Loan Ass'n v. Howell, 24 N.J. 488, 508 (1957); Re Application of State Bank of Plainfield, 61 N.J. Super. 150, 158 (App. Div. 1960). However, the applicant for approval has the initial burden of establishing that the statutory requirements were met. Application of Howard Savings Institution of Newark, 32 N.J. 29, 40 (1960).
East Paterson's main contention is that there is no substantial, competent and relevant evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's finding that "conditions in the area to be served afford a reasonable promise of successful operation." East Paterson maintains that the Commissioner's finding as to this statutory requirement was erroneously based upon unwarranted criteria and assumptions of fact lacking evidential support. East Paterson also urges that the Commissioner has disregarded the only competent evidence of reasonably anticipated annual income and projected annual expense of this branch office operation, and that this evidence demonstrates that there is no reasonable promise of successful operation of this branch office for the next ten years.
The Commissioner noted in his findings that Fair Lawn has been a successful operation since its incorporation in 1927. Its main office is located at 14-01 River Road, Fair Lawn. Besides the branch office in issue, it has three other branch offices located at (1) 200 Fair Lawn Avenue, Fair Lawn, (2) S-134 Far View Avenue, Paramus, and (3) Space 0-6 Building O, Bergen Mall, all in Bergen County. The accounts of its members are insured up to $10,000 for each member by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation. It has enjoyed a rapid growth, ...