On appeal from a Final Administrative Decision of the New Jersey Merit System Board, Docket No. 2007-3526.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Payne and Waugh.
Appellant Cornelius Caruso appeals his termination as a police officer in the City of Orange (City) Police Department (Department). We affirm.
We glean the following facts from the record. Caruso became a police officer in 2000. In 2005, he began to experience serious problems related to his use of alcohol. He voluntarily entered a program at the Carrier Clinic in December 2005. When he did so, he failed to follow the Department's requirement that he notify the communications supervisor and apply for a leave of absence. However, no charges were filed with respect to that omission.
Caruso left the Carrier Clinic in March 2006. He was found by the Department to be fit for duty and returned to work on April 1, 2006. Caruso was instructed to make periodic reports concerning his recovery, which instruction was confirmed in a letter from the City's attorney to Caruso's attorney. No such periodic reports were ever made.
The Department permits fifteen days of sick leave per year. The Department assessed Caruso for use of 2006 sick leave only during the period from January 1 to January 10, 2006. The period from January 11 to March 31, 2006, was charged as a combination of administrative and compensatory leave. After Caruso's return to duty in April, he went out on sick leave from April 6 to April 18; May 10 to July 7; October 25 to November 4; and December 12 to the end of 2006. Consequently, by December 2006, Caruso had taken significantly more sick leave than was permitted by the Department.
Caruso left work on December 12, 2006, because of an eye infection. However, according to Caruso, his problem with alcohol use returned in December 2006. On December 22, 2006, Caruso left his home and traveled to Hazelden, a rehabilitation clinic located in Minnesota. He again failed to notify the communications supervisor, although others apparently notified one of his superiors who subsequently contacted Caruso and arranged for him to surrender his service weapon. Caruso also failed to complete the required forms for a leave of absence.
The City filed formal disciplinary charges against Caruso on January 18, 2007. The disciplinary charges were as follows:
1. Performance of Duty 4:1.1
All employees shall promptly perform their duties as required or directed by law, department rule, policy or directive, or by lawful order of a superior officer. Specifications:
1. On December 22, 2006 Officer Cornelius Caruso entered into a substance abuse program and is unavailable to perform the functions of a police officer. As of January 17, 2007 Officer Caruso is still in this facility and is still physically unable to perform the duties of a police officer.
2. On December 22, 2006 Officer Caruso upon entering into a substance abuse treatment center has become unable to carry a firearm therefore rendering Officer Caruso physically unable to perform the functions of a police officer.