On appeal from a final determination of the Board of Trustees, Public Employees' Retirement System, PERS No. 2-10-196125.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stern, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 13, 2007
Before Judges Stern, Collester and C.S. Fisher.
Petitioner, Anthony Crimaldi, appeals from the final administrative determination of the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees Retirement System ("PERS") which, on January 18, 2007, rejected the initial decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and denied Crimaldi's application for an accidental disability retirement. The Board determined that "the ALJ erroneously concluded that Petitioner met his burden by satisfying N.J.S.A. 45:15A-43 to permit the filing of his application beyond the 5 year statutory limitation." That statute permits a filing for an accidental disability pension beyond the five year limitation period "due to a delayed manifestation." The relevant portion of the statute provides:
The application to accomplish such retirement must be filed within five years of the original traumatic event, but the board of trustees may consider an application filed after the five-year period if it can be factually demonstrated to the satisfaction of the board of trustees that the disability is due to the accident and the filing was not accomplished within the five-year period due to a delayed manifestation of the disability or to circumstances beyond the control of the member.
[N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43 (emphasis added).]
As the Board accepted the ALJ's factual findings and the "only issue" before the Board was "whether the requirements of N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43 [were] satisfied to permit filing of an application beyond the 5-year statutory limitation," the issue before us is essentially one of law to which the Board is entitled to limited deference. See Mayflower Secs. v. Bureau of Secs., 64 N.J. 85, 93 (1973); see also Thurber v. City of Burlington, 191 N.J. 487, 501-02 (2007). Once the issue of statutory construction is resolved, the question of factual application must also be addressed. See, e.g., Thurber, supra, 191 N.J. at 501-02; Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963).
The critical facts related to the filing were stipulated before the ALJ, as follows:
1. Petitioner, Anthony Crimaldi, was born on October 4, 1946, and was employed by the Hazlet Board of Education.
2. He was enrolled in the Public Employees' Retirement System ("PERS".)
3. On December 16, 2002, Petitioner filed an application for disability retirement for an accident which occurred on August 5, 1994. Additionally, he requested an effective date of retirement of May 1, 2001. However, as the application was not received until the middle of December 2002, the first effective date of any benefit to which he may be entitled was January 1, 2003. As such, the staff at the Division of Pensions and Benefits changed the date. (Joint Exhibit 1 - application for disability retirement.)
4. The Petitioner submitted an employer's first report of accidental injury or occupational illness describing the accident of August 5, 1994, wherein he slipped ...