On appeal from New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Division of Pensions.
Fritz, Kole and Lane. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fritz, P.J.A.D. Lane, J.A.D. (dissenting).
[174 NJSuper Page 604] The sole issue involved in this appeal concerns the time when a teacher becomes sufficiently "at work" that a subsequent accident might be said to have resulted from the performance of
his or her regular or assigned duties within the contemplation of N.J.S.A. 18A:66-39(c).
The resolution of factual disagreements is not one of our problems in this appeal, for the essential facts are not in dispute. For instance, it is not contested that a fall on the school property at a time when Margaret May Carlson, the applicant in the agency and appellant here, was required by her teaching duties to be in the school, directly caused Carlson to become "statutorily permanently and totally disabled" and that that fall was a "traumatic event" as that term is used in the statute in question. A single question remains from the substantially agreed facts and it is essentially a legal one: Do the time and place of the occurrence mandate exclusion from statutory coverage because the event did not occur "during and as a result of the performance of [Carlson's] regular or assigned duties"? The administrative law judge answered this inquiry in the affirmative. The Board of Trustees of the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund (Board) adopted his findings of fact and conclusions of law and "affirmed the denial of Accidental Disability retirement for Margaret May Carlson." We reverse.
Carlson was employed as a teacher in the Roseland school system and was enrolled in the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund. Her employment required that she arrive at the school premises not later than 8:35 a.m. This requirement was imposed to insure ready availability for service when the bell rang at 8:55 a.m. to signal "the commencement of the school day," as the State puts it in its counterstatement of facts. Uncontroverted testimony demonstrates that the 20-minute (or more) period between arrival and the bell marking the commencement of school time was freely available to the teacher for whatever use he or she wanted to make of it. It is clear, and wholly credible, that the activities during this time are as varied as the natures and inclinations of the many teachers. Congregation in "the teachers' room" -- a room reserved for the "rest and relaxation" of the teachers; "there's a lavatory there and everything" -- was apparently a common event although a myriad of activities resulted. The testimony on cross-examination of a colleague of Carlson is graphic:
Q What do teachers do in the teacher's room?
A On the day in question?
MR. MOORE [Attorney for the Board]: Generally.
THE COURT: At that early hour?
MR. MOORE: Between 8:35 and 8:55 when they're there?
A While they're there, different teachers do different things. Some work on their papers, some talk, some read a book, some have a cup of ...