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Crain v. State

Decided: January 14, 1991.

LOUIS CRAIN, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPT. OF THE TREASURY, DIVISION OF PENSIONS, RESPONDENT



On appeal from a Final Administrative Determination of the Board of Trustees of the State Police Retirement System.

Petrella, Muir, Jr. and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.

Brochin

Sergeant Louis Crain has appealed from a final decision of the Board of Trustees of the State Police Retirement System. The Board of Trustees held that he was "totally and permanently disabled" and, effective March 1, 1990, "should be retired" with a disability pension from his position as a member of the New Jersey State Police. For the following reasons, we reverse the decision and remand the case to the Board of Trustees.

On February 7, 1969, at the age of 29, Sergeant Crain was sworn in as a Trooper in the New Jersey State Police. In July 1983, he was promoted to Sergeant, and he served at the Moorestown barracks on general traffic duty. In September 1983, as the result of episodes of lightheadedness, he underwent diagnostic heart catherization and then double coronary by-pass surgery. He returned to light duty January 23, 1984 and to full duty February 13, 1984.

According to Sergeant Crain's version of events, from January 1984 to February 1986, he performed all the duties of his position, including field duties and supervision of patrols.*fn1 An affidavit which he submitted to the Board of Trustees states:

In February I received a letter dated February 20, 1986, from Colonel Clinton L. Pagano, Superintendent of the Division of State Police advising that I was being placed in Permanent Disability Status. . . . Other than being restricted from wearing my uniform in public and doing routine patrols, I continued in the same duty assignments as prior to being placed in Permanent Disability Status. Despite the letter of February 20, 1986, I was not placed in protective assignment until November of 1987, when I, myself, brought it to the attention of the superintendent that I had not been placed in protective duty assignment.

On May 18, 1989, the State Police filed an application seeking Sergeant Crain's retirement for disability. He objected to the application. A hearing was held before the Board of Trustees, but no testimony was presented. Sergeant Crain's brief asserts that when he admitted having undergone coronary bypass surgery in 1983, the Deputy Attorney General who was advising the Board of Trustees took the position that, as a matter of law, he was disabled from continuing as a member of the New Jersey State Police. The Division of Pensions has not disputed Sergeant Crain's assertion, and it is consistent with the position that the Division has taken before us.

At the hearing before the Board of Trustees, Sergeant Crain requested the opportunity to present additional evidence. The Board of Trustees agreed. It permitted him "to submit any medical evidence or written testimony." He subsequently submitted his affidavit and medical reports, and they became part of the record before the Board of Trustees. Apparently, no oral testimony was presented pertaining to his medical condition.

The Board of Trustees reviewed the record, determined that Sergeant Crain was disabled, and retired him with ordinary disability retirement benefits effective March 1, 1990.

On appeal, Sergeant Crain asserts that the Board of Trustees erred by ordering his involuntary retirement solely because he underwent coronary by-pass surgery, without having considered his present medical condition. The Division of Pensions argues that the undisputed fact of Sergeant Crain's coronary surgery is all the evidence needed to sustain the determination that he is physically incapacitated from the performance of the duties of a State Trooper. It also contends that there is other substantial evidence in the record which supports the Board of Trustees' decision.

When an application is filed for disability retirement from the State Police, the retirement system must refer the application to its medical board. N.J.S.A. 53:5A-11a. The medical board

consists of three physicians who have been specially designated by the State Treasurer after consultation with the Director of the Division of Pensions. N.J.S.A. 53:5A-30m. The medical board is required to "designate a physician or physicians to examine the applicant and the report of the medical board shall be considered by the board of trustees in acting upon such application." N.J.S.A. ...


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