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Roem v. Borough of Dumont

Decided: November 24, 1980.

CAROL ROEM, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT ROEM, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
BOROUGH OF DUMONT, A BODY POLITIC AND CORPORATE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.

Bischoff, Milmed and Francis.

Per Curiam

Defendant Borough of Dumont (Borough) appeals from an order of the Law Division directing the entry of judgment for plaintiff "declaring that the plaintiff is entitled to receive from the defendant terminal leave pay of six (6) months, which sum shall be paid by the defendant to the plaintiff."

The essential facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff is the widow of Robert Roem who, on April 22, 1978, at the age of 51, committed suicide. He was at the time a lieutenant in the Dumont Police Department and had been a member of the Dumont police force for over 26 years. Plaintiff filed suit against the borough seeking, among other things six months terminal leave pay which she claimed was owing to her as widow of her deceased husband by virtue of a local ordinance and the existing contract between the borough and PBA Local 83 (Dumont Unit). The local ordinance provision reads:

When a member of the Police Department has served the required number of years and reaches the prescribed age as set forth by the Police Retirement System of the State of New Jersey, said member shall be entitled to six (6) months terminal leave with pay.

The provision of the contract between the borough and the PBA Local to which plaintiff refers, reads: "[t]he present terminal leave program which is in effect shall be maintained."

While Lieutenant Roem could have qualified for retirement after 25 years of honorable service in the police department, N.J.S.A. 43:16-1, he was, as previously indicated, in active service at the time of his death. In this regard the borough noted that while Lieutenant Roem had worked more than the required number of years for retirement, i.e. , 26 years and 6

months, he had not indicated "that he intended to retire in the immediate future." The borough also explained its procedure for processing applications for terminal leave, viz. ,

A letter of intent to retire on a specific date is submitted to the Mayor and Council, then terminal leave is generally approved 6 months prior to the retirement date. All past retirements from the department for the last 30 years have followed this procedure.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial judge ruled in favor of plaintiff on her claim that she is entitled to receive terminal leave pay from defendant, and in favor of the borough on plaintiff's claim for Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance coverage.

The sole issue before us is the propriety of the trial judge's grant of terminal leave pay to plaintiff. In challenging that grant the borough contends that (1) it is in direct conflict with the "historical concept of terminal leave, its purpose, and the operation of the Borough's terminal leave program all [of which] contemplate an ongoing relationship with a living employee," and (2) in any event, it should "be barred as plaintiff ...


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