On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'Hern, J. Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, and Garibaldi join in this opinion. Justice Stein has filed a separate dissenting opinion.
This appeal concerns appellant's eligibility to be a candidate for appointment as a police officer in a civil service community. New Jersey's Constitution mandates that "appointments and promotions in the civil service of the State * * * shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination * * * ." N.J. Const. art. VII, § 1, para. 2. The Merit System Board of the New Jersey Department of Personnel (Board), which administers the Civil Service system, ruled that appellant was not eligible for the appointment because she was unfit. However, we are unable to determine how the specific findings in the record demonstrate the unfitness to serve that is the only basis to remove her name from the list of eligible candidates. Accordingly, we remand
the matter to the Department of Personnel to relate its findings in this case to the statutory qualifications.
The parties do not appear to dispute the version of the facts set forth in appellant's brief; hence, we draw our recitation from that source.
Anastasia Vey first began working for the North Wildwood Police Department (NWPD) as a summer police officer in June 1982. She continued to work for the NWPD for the next several summers. In 1986, she decided that she wanted to work as a police officer full-time, year-round. That year, she applied as a candidate to both the New Jersey State Police and the NWPD. She passed a state-administered civil Service examination for the position of police officer. The New Jersey Department of Personnel certified her as "eligible" for employment and placed her name on an "eligible list." Vey also had to submit to various psychological evaluations. The State Police offered her a position, but she declined, hoping to work in her home town of North Wildwood.
The NWPD notified Vey that it was not accepting her as a member of its January 1987 class, due to a negative psychological report. In that report, which was based on a clinical interview and the results of the psychological tests, the examiner characterized plaintiff as pleasant, cooperative, and articulate; above average intellectually; suffering to a mild degree from fear of heights; well oriented, alert, and highly motivated; impulsive, anxious, and agitated; worrying more than most people; somewhat apprehensive and insecure; a likely candidate for distraction; having a low frustration tolerance; and tending to become easily bored. The evaluator concluded that "although she appears motivated to obtain a full-time position as a police officer, there is considerable evidence at hand to suggest that her chances of experiencing success in that capacity are below average at this time." Although the NWPD did
not accept her for its 1987 class, it did not seek to remove her name from the eligible list at that time.
Vey sought appointment to the NWPD's January 1988 class. She requested a new psychological evaluation. The NWPD sent her back to the same association that had performed the first evaluation. The second evaluator, who based his report in part on the first evaluation, found plaintiff to be friendly, cooperative, and verbal; average to low-average in intellectual functioning; open and frank during personality assessment; above average in interpersonal skills; positive in her outlook on life, with good reality testing; more likely than the average person to become emotional and frustrated; impulsive and suspicious; and assertive and bold, with the suggestion of likely conflict between herself and supervisory personnel. The evaluator concluded that "while Ms. Vey has many strengths, her potential for functioning well in the long term in law enforcement as a police officer are below average."
The City of Wildwood requested that Vey's name be removed from the eligible list. Vey appealed the proposed removal of her name. In support of her position, she submitted the report of an independent psychologist she had retained. The psychologist found Vey to be above average in leadership potential; open and cooperative; extroverted, enthusiastic, verbal, spontaneous, and uninhibited; pleasant and responsive to the needs of others; and approaching tasks and problems with an emphasis on rationality. He concluded that "Ms. Vey appears to [have] the necessary ability to be an effective police person. * * * Ms. Vey is a very attractive candidate for this position." Vey also submitted the positive recommendations of her former supervisors and commanding officers. Those supervisors found Vey to be "an outstanding person," "well liked," "an asset to our squad," and as one who "leaves nothing to be desired in all phases of her work."
Despite those favorable records, the Medical Review Panel (Panel) found that the "weight of the documentation supports a
conclusion that the hiring authority has met its burden of proof that [Vey] is mentally unfit to perform effectively the duties of the position," and recommended that her name be removed from the eligible list.
At Vey's request, the Board remanded the matter to the Panel for further consideration. The Panel again recommended that Vey be removed from the eligible list. At that time, the Board accepted the Panel's findings and concluded that "the appointing authority has met its burden of proof that Ms. Vey is mentally unfit to perform effectively the duties of a Police Officer and therefore [we order] that her name be removed from the eligible list."
On Vey's appeal, the Appellate Division found that the record disclosed Vey to be "a very intelligent, decent and well-motivated person," and noted that "were we the fact-finder we might well differ with the personnel decision of the appointing authority." However, a majority of the court concluded that it was required to accord deference to the agency in matters ...