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In re Walker

October 8, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF SHEILA WALKER.


On appeal from the New Jersey Merit System Board, DOP Docket No. 2007-4445.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 18, 2009

Before Judges Carchman, R. B. Coleman and Simonelli.

Petitioner-claimant Sheila Walker appeals from a final administrative decision of the New Jersey Merit System Board (Board) issued on December 5, 2007, denying her request for reconsideration of its denial of sick leave injury (SLI) benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 11A:6-8 and N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.6.*fn1

After carefully considering claimant's arguments in light of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm.

Claimant was working as a "Data Processing Scheduler 1" for the respondent Office of Information Technology (OIT) when a paper towel dispenser in the ladies' bathroom at her place of work dislodged from the wall and struck her in the hands and wrists, causing injury. The accident occurred at 4:00 a.m. on January 5, 2006 while claimant was monitoring centralized computer systems at the System Command Center of the OIT. Claimant filed an incident report the same day.

Later that day, Dr. Thomas Seck, a state-authorized physician, diagnosed claimant with bilateral hand contusions and a cervical strain. Seck also found that prior to the accident claimant already suffered from bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and that her pre-existing condition was aggravated by the accident. Seck placed claimant on light duty until February 3, 2006 and prescribed ice, exercise and medication. On February 13, 2006, Seck referred claimant to Dr. Jon Ark, another state-authorized physician, for an orthopedic evaluation. On March, 15, 2006, Ark placed claimant "off-duty" until April 4, 2006, due to her carpal tunnel syndrome.

Claimant applied to OIT for SLI benefits to compensate her for fifteen missed days of work from March 15, 2006 to April 3, 2006. On April 12, 2006, OIT denied claimant's request for SLI benefits on the ground that claimant's accident was an aggravation of a pre-existing injury, which is not compensable pursuant to N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.6(c)(2).

On April 21, 2006, claimant appealed OIT's denial of SLI benefits to the Board. Regarding OIT's stated grounds for dismissal of her request, claimant argued that N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.6(c)(2) precludes compensation for aggravations of pre-existing injuries only where the event precipitating the aggravation was reasonably foreseeable; she argued further that a paper towel dispenser dislodging from the wall was not foreseeable. On March 29, 2007, the Board issued a written decision denying claimant SLI benefits on a ground unrelated to her pre-existing injury. The Board ruled that claimant "was on break and [therefore] not engaged in a work-related activity" when she was struck by the dispenser, rendering her ineligible for SLI benefits pursuant to N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.6(e)(2).

Claimant filed a request for reconsideration on May 1, 2007, asserting that she was not given an opportunity to present evidence regarding the issue of whether or not she was on a break when the injury occurred. With her request for reconsideration, claimant submitted two notarized statements - her own and that of her shift supervisor - in support of her arguments.

On December 7, 2007, the Board granted reconsideration of claimant's appeal but denied her request for SLI benefits. In doing so, the Board took into account the additional proofs submitted by claimant, but found that all the evidence presented failed to establish a prima facie case that claimant was engaged in a work-related activity and not on a break when the accident occurred.

On appeal to this court, claimant argues that the Board's decision was arbitrary, unreasonable, and not supported by credible evidence in the record. In support of this contention, claimant asserts that (1) she was not on a break when the injury occurred; (2) the Board's designation of what does and does not constitute a break is arbitrary and unreasonable; (3) claimant could not leave her work station for breaks or lunch periods; (4) providing a safe restroom is a condition of employment; (5) the accident occurred on work premises; and (6) injuries occurring in restrooms are compensable under workers' compensation law.

Appellate courts are limited in the scope of their review of final decisions of administrative agencies. "Courts can intervene only in those rare circumstances in which the agency action is clearly inconsistent with its statutory mission or other state policy." In re Musick, 143 N.J. 206, 216 (1996). Thus, this court will not reverse an agency decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence on the record as a whole. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 657 (1999); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997); Brock v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 149 N.J. 378, 383 (1997). We also recognize that decisions of administrative agencies carry a presumption of reasonableness. City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council in Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 82 ...


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