On appeal from Final Decision of the Civil Service Commission.
This is an appeal by the Township of Edgewater Park (Township) from a final decision of the Civil Service Commission (Commission) which reduced that portion of the initial decision of Administrative Law Judge Wizmur (ALJ) recommending dismissal of Ms. Parlow for insubordination under N.J.A.C. 4:1-16.9(a)(4) to a written reprimand and reinstatement to her position as clerk typist with back pay.
Township raises a variety of arguments but unfortunately embraces all of them in one catchall point heading, contrary to R. 2:6-2(a)(5). We have endeavored to sort out and categorize these points as best we can. One argument which we perceive as significant concerns Township's contention that the Commission erred when it considered Parlow's employee service record which was not part of the record below. While the Commission in its de novo review based on the record adopted the findings of the ALJ that Parlow was insubordinate, it found that there were sufficient extenuating circumstances present in the record justifying its conclusion that the penalty of termination of employment ". . . was disproportionate to the charges and situation. Rather, the penalty is modified to a written reprimand." In so doing the Commission stated:
In evaluating a proper penalty on its de novo review, this Commission considers among other factors, an individual's past history of disciplinary sanctions.
Additionally, the Commission utilizes, where appropriate the concept of progressive discipline. Appellant's Civil Service employment record indicates that she was appointed on June 28, 1976 and had never been disciplined by the appointing authority. Thus, we are considering the appropriateness of the penalty to an employee of many years service who has an unblemished record of public service.
It is clear to us that the Commission misconceived its function in reviewing, de novo on the record, the decision of the ALJ when it took into consideration Parlow's employee service record -- a document that was not admitted into evidence at the hearing before the ALJ. In its statement in lieu of brief, the Commission takes the position that it can refer to items in its files that are not admitted into evidence because it is charged with "regulating the employment of governmental employees throughout the State." Although the item in question is a brief, one page document, for the reasons hereinafter set forth the Commission's consideration of the same without notice to the parties or opportunity for rebuttal requires reversal and remand. Principles governing an agency's consideration of evidence not included in the record in making its determination were succinctly summarized in Brotherhood of R.R. Trainmen v. Palmer, 47 N.J. 482 (1966).
Our cases clearly establish the rule that at a hearing of the type required here, an administrator cannot go outside the record made before him, and investigate or privately obtain evidence out of the presence of the interested parties and use it in whole or in part as the basis for his decision. The determination cannot rest upon undisclosed evidence which the parties have had no opportunity to test for trustworthiness or to explain or rebut. In re Plainfield-Union Water Co., 11 N.J. 382, 393 (1953); Susquehanna, etc. Ass'n v. Bd. of Pub. Util. Comm'rs., 55 N.J. Super. 377, 408-409 (App.Div. 1959); N.J. State Bd. of Optometrists v. Nemitz, 21 N.J. Super. 18, 28-29 (App.Div. 1952). . . .
In any proceeding that is judicial in nature, whether in a court or in an administrative agency, the process of decision must be governed by the basic principle of the exclusiveness of the record. 'Where a hearing is prescribed by statute, nothing must be taken into account by the administrative tribunal in arriving at its determination that has not been introduced in some manner into the record of the hearing.' Benjamin, Administrative Adjudication in New York, 207 (1942). Unless this principle is observed, the right to a hearing itself becomes meaningless. Of what real worth is the right to present evidence and to argue its significance at a formal hearing, if the one who decides the case may stray at will from the record in reaching his decision? Or consult another's findings of fact, or conclusions of law, or recommendations or even hold conferences with him?
Here, the Commission supplemented the record with Parlow's employee service record, a document clearly relevant to a determination of the appropriateness of the penalty. See N.J.S.A. 11:15-5. However, since it was not admitted into evidence at the administrative hearing, the parties were not afforded an "opportunity to test its trustworthiness in the normal manner, and refute it if desired." Brotherhood of R.R. Trainmen, 47 N.J. at 487 (citation omitted). We therefore conclude that the Commission erred in considering Parlow's employee service record. Hence, the final decision of the Commission is reversed and remanded for further proceedings and reconsideration wherein the parties shall be afforded an opportunity to present testimony or documentary proof in support or rebuttal thereof either directly before the Commission or before the ALJ.
Appellant further contends that the Commission's final decision was based upon an incomplete record. We have carefully reviewed the record and considered the arguments and applicable principles of law related thereto. We conclude that this issue of law is clearly without merit and that an opinion ...