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Widmer v. Township of Mahwah

Decided: June 28, 1977.


Lynch, Milmed and Antell. The opinion of the court was delivered by Antell, J.A.D.


[151 NJSuper Page 80] Defendant Township of Mahwah appeals from a judgment entered in favor of plaintiff. That

judgment entitled plaintiff, a member of the Mahwah Police Department, "to receive credit, pay status, seniority determination, back pay differential, determination of vacation and pay benefits, and etc., with defendant by virtue of his prior employment with the Hawthorne Police Department.'

Plaintiff had been employed as a patrolman by the Hawthorne Police Department in Passaic County from May 31, 1967 until May 31, 1974. On June 1, 1974 he voluntarily transferred to the Mahwah Police Department in Bergen County. As plaintiff himself said, he understood when hired that he "would start fresh, right at the bottom.' He also testified that he could not deny the emphatic testimony given by the mayor of Mahwah and the chief of police that they told him he was not being hired as a "lateral transfer,' that his previous time in the service of Hawthorne would not be credited him for purposes of longevity and seniority, and that his starting salary as a probationary patrolman would be $8,500, $3,400 less than the pay he was receiving in Hawthorne. He also knew that the maximum salary in Mahwah was about $1,000 higher than the same level in Hawthorne.

After completing his probationary period and after receiving his permanent employment, plaintiff learned for the first time of the benefits provided by N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5 when in June or July 1975, he read a newspaper article reporting the decision in Caldwell v. Rochelle Park Tp. , 135 N.J. Super. 66 (Law Div. 1975). Caldwell held that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5, when a police officer transfers from employment in one municipality to employment in another municipality in the same county, he is entitled to credit for the prior service in the first municipality for all purposes. It was then that plaintiff decided to disaffirm the commitment he had made and demanded additional longevity, vacation pay, pay status, back pay differential, seniority and other emoluments based upon a period of service calculated from May 1, 1967, the date he began his service with Hawthorne. When these demands were rejected he instituted this action in lieu of prerogative writs. As a result of the judgment

below, plaintiff now enjoys wage benefits, longevity status and a position in the Mahwah Police Department superior to other officers who have been there longer than he.

Mahwah contends on appeal that (1) N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5 does not provide for lateral transfers between municipalities of different counties and (2) plaintiff had actual or constructive knowledge of his rights under N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5 upon a lateral transfer and he intentionally relinquished these when he voluntarily bargained away his claim for longevity benefits.

N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5, rights of certain employees transferred to other positions, effective July 1, 1971, provides:

Whenever heretofore or hereafter a transfer has been or shall be effected by appointment, assignment or promotion of a municipal employee to any other department or position in municipal employment, or to a position or department of the county government; or of a county employee to any other position or department in county employment, or to a department or position of a municipal government, in counties of the first or second class, the period of such prior service in said county or municipal employment, for any purpose whatsoever, shall be computed as if the whole period of employment of such employee had been in the service of the department, or in the position, to which the said employee had been transferred.

After the enactment of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5 this court in Libby v. Union Cty. Bd. of Freeholders , 125 N.J. Super. 471 (App. Div. 1973), held that the statute entitles employees who voluntarily transferred from municipal employment to county employment in the same county to longevity pay. In Fivehouse v. Passaic Valley Water Comm'n , 127 N.J. Super. 451 (App. Div.), certif. den. 65 N.J. 565 (1974), and in Gudgeon v. Ocean Cty. , 135 N.J. Super. 13 (App. Div. 1975), this court iterated the view that N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5 contemplated voluntary transfers. However, in both Fivehouse and Gudgeon , the respective plaintiffs fell outside of the scope of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5 for other reasons. Recently the Law Division in Caldwell v. Rochelle Park Tp., supra , held that N.J.S.A. 40A:9-5 allowed the voluntary

lateral transfer of a police officer between municipalities of the same ...

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