On appeal from Division of Workers' Compensation, Case Nos. 97-013333 and 97-011166.
Before Judges Conley, Lefelt and Lisa.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conley, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
These back-to-back appeals, consolidated for the purpose of a single opinion, arise from a Workers' Compensation Judge's conclusion that the judicial unification, accomplished through constitutional amendment and legislative enactments, insofar as it impacts upon parking facilities for former county employees transferred to State employment in the unified judicial system, imposes an obligation upon the State to assume workers' compensation benefits for such employees when they are injured in their designated parking location or while en route therefrom to or from their work sites, despite the location's nonState ownership. We affirm the award of compensation benefits in both of these appeals but we do so on a different, more narrow basis.
The proceedings below were consolidated for the testimony of the State's witness; they were not consolidated for the testimony of the individual petitioners. In setting forth the facts, we combine the proceedings.
Philip J. Plumeri has been a Probation Officer employed by the State Judiciary, assigned to the Mercer County vicinage, since January 1995. Before January 1995, he performed the same job under the employment of the County of Mercer. The change of employers was due to a transfer pursuant to a constitutional amendment and the ensuing State Judicial Unification Act and the Judicial Employees Unification Act. N.J.S.A. 2B:10-1 to -9; N.J.S.A. 2B:11-1 to -12; N.J. Const. Art. VI, § VIII. Prior to and immediately following the transfer, Plumeri performed his job at the Mercer County Administration Building located on Broad Street, Trenton. As of October 1995, his department was relocated to the new Family Court building, also on Broad Street.
Mary E. Bradley, prior to January 1995, had been a Mercer County employee for about thirty-eight years during which she first was a court clerk and then a senior court clerk. After the judicial unification enactments in 1995, Bradley became a State employee. At the time of the unification, she worked in the "old" courthouse on Broad Street. In October 1995, she was relocated to the "new" courthouse, also on Broad Street.
After the transfer, parking was assigned to both Plumeri and Bradley through their respective State supervisors. They were required to complete a form detailing automobile information and were issued a parking placard for their designated parking areas. Both were assigned by their State employer to the Mercer County parking garage located between Broad Street and Market Street and which is now used solely for State employee and Mercer County employee parking. Of the 600 permits issued for parking in that garage, 350 have been issued to State employees.
The parking garage is gated and manned by a security guard. It has two entrances, one on Livingston Street and one on Market Street. A vehicle entering the Market Street side of the garage has access only to half of the facility. Likewise, a vehicle entering the Livingston Street side has access only to that half of the facility. Plumeri was instructed by his State employer to use the Market Street entrance and, thus, the portion of the garage accessible by that entrance. Bradley was instructed by her State employer to use the Livingston Street entrance and, thus, the portion of the garage accessible by that entrance.
There are street meters in the immediate area of the garage. There are also nearby State owned and managed parking lots used exclusively for State employees assigned to those lots. Plumeri and Bradley were authorized only to park in their assigned sections of the Mercer County garage and were not permitted access to any of the nearby State owned lots. Indeed, Plumeri had been instructed, as had his co-employee probation officers, that if he parked in any of the other State parking lots, he would be ticketed.
As we have said, the garage to which Plumeri and Bradley were assigned their parking privileges is County owned. Prior to the judicial unification legislation, the Market Street entrance was open to the public, with assigned parking as well for county employees. The Livingston Street entrance was open only to county employees assigned to park there. The record reflects that after the legislation, "when [the employee parking] transition did occur, there was a written agreement" which covered a number of other matters as well. The record does not contain that agreement or any other written document delineating the use of the garage for the once County now State employees.*fn1 But the record clearly reflects that the State insisted on free parking for those employees. Indeed, after the unification, the Market Street entrance was no longer accessible to the public, presumably because of the need for additional parking space for the employees transferred to State payroll. And, while the permits for employee parking in the facility are issued by the County, it is evident that that is just a formality for the State employees, as no State employee who has been assigned by the State to park in that garage, and whose "credentials"*fn2 otherwise are satisfactory, has been denied a permit by the County.
Although the State has prevailed upon the County to permit State employees to use the garage, maintenance of the garage is performed by the County. Requests by the State, however, are generally responded to. For example, if there is a pothole or materials left lying about, the State employer requests correction by the County and it usually will be ...