On appeal from a final decision of the New Jersey Racing Commission.
Before Judges Baime, Kestin and A.a. Rodriguez.
The opinion of the court was delivered by RODRIGUEZ, A.A., J.A.D.
The issue presented is whether the New Jersey Racing Commission (Commission) has the authority to discipline a licensed trainer who violates N.J.A.C. 13:70-20.9 by hiring a suspended jockey for a job which is exempt from the licensing requirement. We hold that it does and affirm the Commission's final decision fining Ronald C. Wendling $500. We reject Wendling's argument that N.J.A.C. 13:70-20.9 violates the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions.
The facts are undisputed. Wendling is licensed by the Commission as a trainer and his farm, Charter Acres, is licensed as a training center for race horses. There, he stables race horses as well as non-racing animals (brood mares, yearlings, weanlings and pleasure horses). Wendling maintains separate balance sheets and ledgers, files separate tax returns and uses separate bank accounts for the racing and non-racing businesses he conducts on the farm.
Wendling employed Felix Quinones as a general farmhand on Charter Acres. Quinones is a former jockey whose license has been suspended indefinitely by the Commission because he took a bribe to fix a race. Under the terms of the suspension, Quinones was denied "the privileges of all grounds under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Racing Commission." Quinones was hired to perform general farm maintenance, including repairing stalls and fences, cleaning the barn area and doing household and farm chores. Although he worked with yearlings, he did not attend to race horses. Wendling was paid from the non-racing business account. A Commission investigator told Wendling that Quinones was not permitted to be on the farm by virtue of N.J.A.C. 13:70-20.9. Accordingly, Wendling terminated Quinones' employment. However, he later re-hired Quinones reasoning that as long as Quinones did not attend to race horses he could be employed.*fn1 Afterwards, two Commission investigators visited Charter Acres and found Quinones working there. At that time Wendling's race horses were stabled at Garden State Park. However, Wendling concedes that when race horses were stabled at Charter Acres, Quinones had free access to them.
Wendling was charged with violating N.J.A.C. 13:70-20.9 which reads:
A trainer shall register with the backstretch security every person in his or her employ, and it shall be his or her duty to see to it that his or her employees obtain licenses from the Commission. Trainers employing or harboring unlicensed or disqualified personnel may be subject to disciplinary action.
The Board of Stewards at Garden State Park found Wendling in violation and imposed a $500 fine. Wendling appealed and the matter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for determination as a contested case. Both parties moved for summary decision. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that "Wendling employed Quinones solely for services unrelated to matters within the Racing Commission's purview." The ALJ concluded that the Commission "can only regulate matters relating to New Jersey racing.... Simply stated, the Commission has no jurisdiction or authority in any matter unrelated to its regulatory scheme."
In a written decision the Commission rejected the ALJ's legal interpretation. Because the ALJ had rendered a summary decision, the Commission entered a limited remand to enable the ALJ to advise it if its agency review had disposed of all the pending issues. While on limited remand, Wendling filed a second motion for summary decision attacking, for the first time, N.J.A.C. 13:70-20.9 on federal and state constitutional grounds. The ALJ denied this motion, concluding that it raised legal issues that should have been raised in Wendling's original cross-motion.
Wendling first contends that he did not violate N.J.A.C. 13:70-20.9 because the Commission lacks jurisdiction over employees on a licensed farm who do not directly attend to race horses. This ...