On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
For reversal -- Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber and Handler. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Schreiber, J.
This appeal concerns the underlying legislative purpose of the New Jersey State Employees' Awards Program, N.J.S.A. 11:2C-1 to 9. The case has its genesis in a suggestion filed by Dr. Oscar Sussman with the New Jersey State Employees' Awards Committee, which first denied an award, but subsequently, upon reopening the proceedings and after several days of hearings, granted a $5,000 award. When Phillip Alampi, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, sought to reopen the proceedings a second time, the Committee refused and the Secretary appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the award in an unreported opinion and we granted the Secretary's petition for certification. 78 N.J. 329 (1978).
The Legislature created within the Department of Civil Service a committee known as the New Jersey State Employees' Awards Committee. N.J.S.A. 11:2C-2. Its function is to establish and administer plans to reward state employees for suggestions designed "to promote efficiency and economy in State Governmental functions * * *." N.J.S.A. 11:2C-6. Such suggestions must be implemented before an award may be given. Civil Service Personnel Manual, subpart
22-1.101c (March 29, 1976), superseded by subpart 22-1.103a (August 4, 1978).
On August 15, 1974 Dr. Sussman, then Director of Consumer Health Services in the Department of Health, submitted his suggestion on an officially prescribed form. He suggested that the State eliminate its meat and poultry inspection program under the New Jersey Meat and Poultry Inspection Act, N.J.S.A. 24:16B-1 to 71. The New Jersey statute had been adopted in 1968 to complement the Federal Meat Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C.A. §§ 601 to 695. Under that act the federal government agreed to bear half the costs of administering a state inspection program provided the state's standards were at least equal to those of the United States Department of Agriculture. 21 U.S.C.A. § 661. However, if the State failed to carry out these functions, so that the federal criteria were not met, the federal government's inspection program would then replace that of the State.
Accordingly, Dr. Sussman proposed that New Jersey abolish its inspection scheme, for then the "meat and poultry [would] be inspected exactly the same way" by the federal authorities. Dr. Sussman had been publicly urging that proposal since 1968. He had made that recommendation to Governors Hughes, Cahill and Byrne and to the Legislature, but to no avail. Governor Cahill proposed that the program be eliminated, but the Legislature refused to accede to that request.
In 1975 Governor Byrne was faced with an extremely difficult task in balancing the budget. Among other economy measures, he line vetoed the $325,000 appropriation for the state meat and poultry inspections. The Legislature acquiesced in the veto and since July 1, 1975 the program has lain dormant.
After receiving Dr. Sussman's application in August 1974, the Awards Committee circulated it to the Departments of Health, Treasury and Agriculture for their comments. The
Department of Health responded that "since the quality of meat inspection will be the same, plus a savings of more than $300,000 per year to the State Treasury," the award was in order. The Department of Agriculture replied that the proposal had previously been considered by the Legislature and that the federal and state programs were not identical. It explained that the state program, for example, included inspection of customer slaughterhouses, which the federal regulations exempted. It recommended the award be denied. The Treasury Department concurred.
On March 12, 1975 the Committee notified Sussman that the award had not been approved. The Committee, as a result of Dr. Sussman's request in December 1975, reopened the proceedings. It designated a Hearing Examiner who was directed to make findings on issues concerning originality, eligibility, implementation and causation. The Hearing Examiner concluded that Dr. Sussman was the "only person" who had suggested termination of the state program before his filing of the suggestion in August 1974 with the Committee. The Examiner also found that
[a]lthough the evidence supports some inference that the State Program was terminated in 1976 [ sic; 1975] after persistent attempts by [Dr. Sussman] to effect the same result, it is clear that the Legislative action was also motivated by existing economic circumstances and anticipated ...