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Caldwell v. County of Mercer

October 26, 2007


On appeal from State of New Jersey Division of Workers' Compensation, Department of Labor, Petition No.: 2005-23079.

Per curiam.


Argued September 11, 2007

Before Judges Axelrad and Payne.

Petitioner, formerly employed by Mercer County's Board of Social Services as a Human Services Specialist II whose duties included making welfare eligibility determinations for the Board's clients, appeals from a denial of medical and temporary disability workers' compensation benefits for an aggravation of pre-existing depression on the grounds that the psychiatric injury did not arise out of or in the course of his employment as required by N.J.S.A. 34:15-30 and N.J.S.A. 34:15-7.

On April 25, 2005, petitioner was informed by a supervisor, in a meeting that occurred in the presence of petitioner's union representative, that a former welfare benefits client had charged him with kidnapping and rape. Following the meeting, and while an investigation was occurring, petitioner was denied further client contact and confined to administrative duties, to the alleged ire of his colleagues, who were required to shoulder the extra work. On June 14, 2005, petitioner was served with a preliminary notice of disciplinary action, and at his request, a hearing was conducted before an internal Board of Social Services hearing officer on June 23, 2005, at which the complainant testified, as well as petitioner, the person investigating the complainant's allegations, and various other witnesses.

At the hearing, the complainant testified that petitioner had enticed her to come to a VFW hall in Ewing, on Sunday, February 13, 2005, with papers necessary to perfect her application for food stamps. Upon arrival and sign-in, petitioner, who was serving as a bartender at the hall, served complainant with a strong apple martini, and later gave her the keys to his Volvo, requesting that she wait for him in his car, which she described as dark and old. Complainant did so, and after being driven by petitioner to a KFC restaurant for food, petitioner drove her to Mount's Motel near the Brunswick Circle, where he forced her to have sex, leaving $20 on the bed after the assault had occurred. Complainant stated that, while in the motel, petitioner showed her a scar on his leg that he claimed had resulted from a vasectomy. Complainant's application for food stamps was denied a few weeks later, and in April, complainant reported the sexual assault to the Board at the urging of her mother. She did not report it to the police.

Petitioner denied complainant's allegations, stating that they had been fabricated as revenge following petitioner's determination that claimant sought to commit welfare fraud. He stated that he had never seen a client outside of the office, and that he had never had a sexual relationship with a client. However, petitioner confirmed that he had served as a bartender at the Ewing VFW hall from 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. on the night in question. He denied having a vasectomy, but confirmed that he had a scar on his right knee. Additionally, he admitted that he had visited Mount's Motel approximately eighteen times in the prior two and one-half years, although he claimed that he did so with his girlfriend.

During cross-examination, petitioner admitted that he had been disciplined for stating in writing that he had a valid New Jersey driver's license, when it was in fact suspended. He also admitted that he had been disciplined for visiting a client at her home, while not on agency time, and for taking possession of the client's passbook, which he subsequently lost. He stated that a further charge against him for visiting another client's house on two occasions and calling her during the evening hours was not substantiated.

Petitioner conceded that he owned a Volvo. He could not explain how the complainant would have known the make of his car, other than by seeing him in Trenton, and he could not explain how she knew of his work as a VFW bartender.

Testimony by the Board's investigator established that complainant had sought compensation for speaking to him. It also established the investigator's inability to confirm the complainant's presence at the VFW hall, because sign-in sheets maintained for the evening did not disclose her name. However, the investigator did not know whether the sign-in sheets, maintained by the bartenders, were complete. The investigator additionally was unable to confirm the couple's presence at the motel. However, he was told by its proprietor that a person identifying himself as "Junior" had signed in that night, as he frequently did. Petitioner's name is Amos R. Caldwell, Jr.*fn1 His use of Junior as a nickname was disputed.

During the course of the hearing, an armed guard escorted petitioner through the building and to and from its rest room. At the hearing's conclusion, the hearing officer reserved decision.

Petitioner did not return to work. On June 24, 2005, petitioner was seen by his treating internist, Dr. Mariam Maniya, for, among other things, depression reported by the doctor to have been caused by the death of petitioner's son in 2001. The doctor referred petitioner to psychiatrist Prakash Amin, M.D., for evaluation, and excused petitioner from work for three weeks.

Petitioner saw Dr. Amin on July 6, 2005, at which time he complained of "false allegations against [him]." Dr. Amin diagnosed petitioner as suffering from "major depression, recurrent, moderate" along with "panic disorder without agoraphobia." Dr. Amin saw petitioner again on July 21 and on ...

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