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Wagner v. Board of Trustees of Public Employees'' Retirement System

Decided: May 12, 1965.

ROBERT F. WAGNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, DEPT. OF THE TREASURY, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Gaulkin, Foley and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Foley, J.A.D.

Foley

Plaintiff appeals from a determination of defendant Board denying his application for accident disability retirement pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43.

Plaintiff was employed by the Division of Motor Vehicles for approximately 26 years. During that time he received various promotions including appointment as examiner, inspector, and finally hearings officer. In 1959 a mandatory "points system" was inaugurated in the Division. The effect of this system was to infringe upon and to lessen the quasi -judicial functions of a hearings officer. Plaintiff found it increasingly difficult to apply the points system and gradually a series of disagreements between him and his superiors developed which caused him to become tense and overwrought. One of the disagreements (unrelated to plaintiff's difficulties with the points system) involved the denial by the acting

director of the Division of plaintiff's application for renewal of special parking privileges. See Wagner v. State, Division of Motor Vehicles, 78 N.J. Super. 598 (App. Div. 1963). The difficulties between plaintiff and his superiors culminated in his being removed from his position of hearings officer and assigned to other tasks which plaintiff considered menial.

Sometime prior to July 1, 1962 (the record does not disclose the exact date) plaintiff was placed on sick leave involuntarily. During this period he consulted his personal physician Sidney G. Fine, a psychiatrist, on at least one occasion. On July 1, 1962 he reported back to work, but the Division's personnel officer refused to allow him to resume work until he was examined by a state physician. He submitted to an examination by Dr. Lawrence M. Collins, a psychiatrist. The report of that examination does not appear in the record. However, it seems to be without dispute that Dr. Collins found plaintiff to be suffering from a disabling psychiatric disorder. In any event, plaintiff was denied permission to resume his duties and his sick leave was continued.

In the early part of July 1963, at a consultation between Dr. Fine and plaintiff's attorney, the doctor informed the attorney that plaintiff was suffering from a "paranoid state" which had been induced by the tensions created by his work. Plaintiff thereupon applied for accidental disability retirement from active service as a hearings officer in the Division effective August 8, 1963. His application indicated that he was incapacitated as the result of an "accident" which had occurred July 1, 1962 at the offices of the Division. He did not describe the "accident," but stated that as the result of it he had suffered a "neurological injury to my nervous system." He filed also a "statement concerning disability" in which he said that he had been advised by Dr. Fine that he could no longer continue his work as a hearings officer; authorized the physician to make a report to the physician or physicians designated by the Board, and offered to submit himself for examination by such physicians and at such time and place as might be designated by the Board.

On July 12, 1963 plaintiff, at the instance of the Division, was examined at the Diagnostic Center at Menlo Park, as a result of which the staff of that institution concluded that plaintiff was "a seriously disturbed individual who appears to be suffering from a severe anxiety state with some hostile and paranoid tendencies," and that "the impression is gained that he is not emotionally qualified to continue working at his job at the present time." On July 13, 1963 a report was filed with the Board by Dr. Fine. This indicated that the doctor had treated plaintiff on May 18, 1962 and on February 27, 1963, and that he was of the opinion that plaintiff was suffering from an incurable paranoid state which permanently disabled him from the performance of his duties. Dr. Fine reported, further, that the history of the condition established that the date and mode of its onset was May 1961 when he was removed as a hearings officer. He said also that the "natural and proximate cause of his disability" was the tension plaintiff underwent in the discharge of his duties.

On August 6, 1963 the Division filed with the Board a statement in which, upon the basis of the "accident" described in plaintiff's statement above referred to, it recommended that plaintiff be retired.

Under date of August 9, 1963 the Division was notified by the Board that plaintiff's application could not be acted upon unless a report of accident was filed in the office of the Retirement System, that that file did not contain a report of accident, and that if an accident report had been filed with the Division a copy of it should be forwarded to the Board. The communication went on to state that "after a review of the papers submitted and the lack of an accident report in this case it would appear to be an Ordinary Disability." See N.J.S.A. 43:15A-42. Accordingly, forms of an application for ordinary disability were enclosed.

On September 13, 1963 the Division replied that plaintiff's personnel file did not contain any accident report relating to his claim for accidental disability pension, and that plaintiff's claim was and is ...


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