On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Before Judges Petrella, Baime and Conley.
The opinion of the court was delivered by PETRELLA, P.J.A.D.
The Township of North Brunswick (North Brunswick) appeals from an October 29, 1992 Law Division order that confirmed an arbitration award in favor of PBA Local 160 (Local 160) on behalf of Patrolman John Knox. On appeal, it argues: (1) the arbitrator failed to issue his award in accord with relevant law and the specific language of the agreement between the parties; (2) the arbitration award was procured by "undue means" and based on a mistake of law and fact; (3) the arbitrator's decision violated clear and well-settled rules of contract construction; and (4) the arbitrator improperly relied on alleged past practices between the parties. We reverse.
The dispute arises over an interpretation of a collective negotiation agreement between North Brunswick and Local 160. It appears from the findings of the arbitrator that Knox, a North Brunswick police officer, suffered a work-related injury that caused him to miss eleven days of work beginning March 13, 1988.*fn1 Knox returned to work on May 13, but later missed another five work days in October and December due to his injury claim.*fn2
Knox thereafter took a leave of absence in late 1988 or early 1989 and, although the record is not clear as to the actual length of his leave, apparently returned to work on August 20, 1989. In any event, over that period of time Knox had gone to various physicians for treatment relating to his back injury. During that time, North Brunswick paid Knox's full salary and paid all of his medical costs.
On January 23, 1991, Knox requested compensation at an overtime rate of pay for 222 hours, which largely represented off-duty visits to his chiropractor.*fn3 Local 160 argues that Article 27(C)(6) in the collective negotiation agreement between the parties authorizes the overtime compensation in this case. That particular clause, quoted hereinafter, immediately follows other numbered paragraphs in Article 27(C) that indicate when North Brunswick may require a police officer to submit to a physical examination. Thus, paragraphs 4, 5, and 6, which essentially deal with the same subject, read in pertinent part:
4. An officer who calls off duty as sick may only be required to submit to a physical examination in one of three cases:
a. where the officer has been out on sick leave for five consecutive days/
b. where the officer seeks to return to duty following a work related injury, or
c. where the Township has reason to believe that there has been an abuse of sick leave in accordance with civil service law.
5. An officer shall not be required to submit a doctor's report of an illness or injury at the officer's expense.
6. An officer sent to a Township doctor while off duty shall be paid overtime for the time spent travelling to and from ...