On appeal from a determination of the Commissioner of Banking of New Jersey.
Crane, Milmed and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by Milmed, J.A.D.
[172 NJSuper Page 279] The applicant, Orange Savings Bank, applied to the Department of Banking (Department) for approval to open a full service branch office to be located in Essex Green Shopping Plaza, West Orange. Objections to the application were interposed and requests for a formal hearing were made by Mountain Ridge State Bank, Llewellyn-Edison Savings and Loan Association, West Orange Savings and Loan Association, (appellants), and Essex County State Bank. The requests for a formal hearing were granted and a hearing was scheduled before a Department hearing officer. The objectors-appellants applied to the Commissioner of Banking (Commissioner) to have the case either transferred to the Office of Administrative Law or heard by the Commissioner personally.*fn1 The Commissioner denied
the request and we granted appellants' motion for leave to appeal from the denial and stayed the Department's scheduled hearing.
N.J.S.A. 17:9A-20, part of the Banking Act of 1948 as amended, reads in pertinent part as follows:
A. Before any full branch office shall be established, except those branches established pursuant to paragraph (1) of subsection B. of section 19, the bank or savings bank shall file written application in the department for the commissioner's approval thereof. If, after such investigation or hearings, or both, as the commissioner may determine to be advisable, he shall find:
(1) That the bank or savings bank has complied with the requirements of section 19;
(2) That the interests of the public will be served to advantage by the establishment of such full branch office; and
(3) That conditions in the locality in which the proposed full branch office is to be established afford reasonable promise of successful operation; the commissioner shall, within 90 days after the filing of the application, approve such application.
We note here that subsection (B) of the same section, relating to any application by a bank or savings bank for the establishment of a minibranch office, provides that "[t]here shall be no hearing required to be held by the commissioner in connection with such application." Also, subsection (C) of N.J.S.A. 17:9A-20, relating to any application by a bank or savings bank for the establishment of a communication terminal branch office, provides that "[n]o hearing shall be held by the commissioner in connection with such application."
Appellants contend, in essence, that since the Commissioner has decided that a formal hearing is to be held on the full branch office application, the hearing is to be conducted as in a "contested case" in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, L. 1968, c. 410, N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 et seq. , as amended and supplemented by the legislation establishing the Office of Administrative Law, L. 1978, c. 67, N.J.S.A. 52:14F-1, et seq. We agree.
N.J.S.A. 52:14B-2(b) defines the term "[c]ontested case" to mean
And N.J.S.A. 52:14B-10, as amended, provides in subsection (c), in pertinent part, that:
All hearings of a State agency required to be conducted as a contested case under this act*fn2 or any other law shall be conducted by an administrative law judge assigned by the Director of the Office of Administrative Law, ...