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Daganya v. Board of Education of the Township of Old Bridge


December 8, 2009


On appeal from a Final Decision of the Commissioner of Education, Docket No. 278-10/05.

Per curiam.


Argued November 9, 2009

Before Judges Baxter and Alvarez.

Rose Daganya appeals from a December 30, 2008 final agency decision of the Commissioner of Education (Commissioner). The Commissioner concluded that even though Daganya had sustained a work-related injury that prevented her from performing her extra-curricular duties as a field hockey coach, she was nonetheless not entitled to payment of her coaching stipend because the term "full salary," as used in N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, refers only to the compensation received for Daganya's full-time teaching position, and not to a part-time coaching salary. We affirm.


Daganya, a longtime health and physical education teacher and field hockey coach in the Township of Old Bridge school district, suffered a work-related injury to her right knee on November 30, 2004. By deferring the required surgical repair to August 2005, Daganya was able to finish the 2004-05 school year, but was unable to return to work on September 1, 2005. She remained out of work through November 1, 2005, while recuperating from the knee-replacement surgery performed on August 2, 2005.

Through a combination of workers' compensation benefits and a disability payment received from the school district pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, Daganya was reimbursed for her full teaching salary for that two-month period; however, the school district refused to compensate her for her lost income as a field hockey coach. Relying upon N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, the school district asserted that because Daganya's coaching position was neither full-time nor tenured, Daganya was not entitled to the payment of her coaching stipend for the two-month period in question.

Daganya filed a timely verified petition with the Office of Administrative Law challenging the school district's decision. On November 17, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a decision upholding the school district's determination that Daganya was not entitled to payment of her coaching stipend. In a final agency decision rendered on December 30, 2008, the ALJ's decision was affirmed by the Commissioner.

The principles governing our review are well-accepted. "Appellate courts ordinarily accord deference to final agency actions, reversing those actions if they are 'arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or [if the action] is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.'" N.J. Soc'y for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. N.J. Dep't of Agric., 196 N.J. 366, 384-85 (2008) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)). Moreover, "[t]he interpretation of a statute by the administrative agency charged with its enforcement is entitled to great weight." Nelson v. Bd. of Educ. of Old Bridge, 148 N.J. 358, 364 (1997). "Nevertheless, an administrative agency may not, under the guise of interpretation, extend a statute to give it a greater effect than its language permits." GE Solid State, Inc. v. Dir., Div. of Taxation, 132 N.J. 298, 306 (1993). While Daganya claims that the Commissioner's interpretation of the statute was overly restrictive, rather than unduly expansive, it stands to reason that if an administrative agency may not, under the guise of interpretation, broaden the impact of a statute beyond the Legislature's intent, ibid., the agency should not be permitted to contract the Legislature's intentions either.

The statute in question, N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, addresses the payment of sick leave for service-connected disability in a school setting. N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1(a) provides:

Whenever any employee, entitled to sick leave*fn1 under this chapter, is absent from his post of duty as a result of a personal injury caused by an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, his employer shall pay to such employee the full salary or wages for the period of such absence for up to one calendar year . . . .

Thus, as is evident from the language of N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, a teacher who is out of work and receiving sick leave is entitled to be reimbursed only for "salary or wages." A stipend is not a salary or a wage. Had the Legislature intended to require a school district to reimburse a teacher for services such as coaching a varsity team, or serving as an advisor to the high school yearbook, drama club, or student newspaper, the Legislature would have written the statute differently. Specifically, the Legislature would have specified that the school district would be obliged to pay such employee the full salary or wages "in addition to any income earned in connection with extra-curricular activities such as coaching, or earned while serving as an advisor to student clubs, activities or organizations." The Legislature's failure to include such language evinces an intent to exclude such forms of compensation from the salary reimbursement a disabled teacher is entitled to receive pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1.

Moreover, as we understand the record, Daganya did not hold a teaching certificate for the position, the assignment was made from year-to-year, the stipend was separate from her teaching salary, and there was no obligation on her part to accept the coaching position as part of her teaching duties. By the same token, the school district was not obliged to offer her the position of field hockey coach in any given year. Daganya does not contend that she was tenured in her employment as a field hockey coach or that the school was obligated to reassign the position to her yearly.

While there is no binding precedent on this question, our analysis is informed by the Commissioner's view of the subject because "it is the Commissioner of Education who usually decides whether and how the sick leave section, N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, applies." Magaw v. Middletown Bd. of Educ., 323 N.J. Super. 1, 17 (App. Div. 1999). The Commissioner has consistently held that tenured teachers who sustain a work-related disability or injury that entitles them to full payment of their teachers' salary during the period of absence, are not entitled to be paid or reimbursed for the compensation they would have received for extra-curricular duties such as coaching.*fn2 The agency's conclusions are significant because, as we have already discussed, "[t]he interpretation of a statute by the administrative agency charged with its enforcement is entitled to great weight." Nelson, supra, 148 N.J. at 364.

Daganya relies on Outland v. Monmouth-Ocean Education Service Commission, 154 N.J. 531 (1998), in support of her claim that she is entitled to be paid her coaching stipend while on sick leave. Relying on what she concedes is dicta in that opinion, id. at 540, Daganya argues that because she "clearly had an expectation of employment in the position of field hockey coach," she, like the plaintiff in Outland, was not seeking benefits that "constitute a double recovery or windfall for her, but rather a replacement of income from work actually lost, whether covered from a benefit program or not."

In Outland, the Court was not presented with the issue Daganya raises here. Instead, the Court decided a markedly different issue, namely whether a teacher who would have been employed by the school district during the summer should be entitled to receive temporary workers' compensation benefits if she proved that she was unable to resume her summer employment. Id. at 538-39. In Outland, the Court never addressed a teacher's entitlement to payment for a coaching stipend such as the one Daganya claims here. Thus, Outland is inapplicable and provides no guidance on the question before us.

Daganya also maintains that the statute at issue here, N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, must be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with the scope of benefits available under the workers' compensation statutes because both statutory enactments are designed to achieve the same goal, i.e. compensating employees for income lost as a result of job-related injuries. Without citing a particular statute, Daganya broadly maintains that she would have been entitled to workers' compensation benefits to replace her lost coaching stipend. Even if, for the sake of discussion, we were to accept that statement as true, such entitlement has no bearing upon our interpretation of N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1.

As the Court recently cautioned in Marino v. Marino, ___ N.J. ____, ____ (2009) (slip op. at 22-23), the doctrine of in pari materia should be applied sparingly as a maxim of statutory construction. Construing the statutes governing interment and disinterment, id. at 1-2, the Court observed that only when statutes "'deal with the same matter or subject'" should they be "read in pari materia and construed together as a unitary and harmonious whole." Id. at 21 (quoting St. Peter's Univ. Hosp. v. Lacy, 185 N.J. 1, 14-15 (2005) (internal quotations omitted)).

In determining whether two legislative enactments "actually 'concern the same subject,'" a court should consider "whether both statutes were included in one enactment, whether the proofs required overlap, and whether they are 'designed to serve the same purpose and objective . . . .'" Id. at 21-22 (quoting 2B Sutherland on Statutory Construction § 51:3 (7th ed. 2008)). The Court observed that "'[t]he adventitious occurrence of like or similar phrases, or even of similar subject matter, in laws enacted for wholly different ends will normally not justify applying the rule' of in pari materia." Id. at 22 (quoting State v. DiCarlo, 67 N.J. 321, 325 (1975)).

Applying the principles of Marino, we are satisfied that the maxim of in pari materia should not be utilized here. The Workers Compensation Act, codified at N.J.S.A. 34:15-1 to -142, was first enacted in 1911. In contrast, the statute at issue here is codified in an entirely different Title, namely Title 18A, which is dedicated to Education; it was enacted decades later, in 1967, and amended in 1997;*fn3 and its purpose is entirely different from the purposes of the Workers' Compensation Act. The purpose of N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1 is to "guarantee that a school district employee, who is absent from work due to an injury arising out of and in the course of employment, will receive his or her full salary for periods of absence up to one calendar year without losing annual or accumulated sick leave." Outland v. Monmouth-Ocean Educ. Serv. Comm'n, 295 N.J. Super. 390, 395 (App. Div. 1996) (emphasis added).*fn4 The Workers' Compensation Act serves a different goal. It was enacted as "important social legislation" to accomplish "the ameliorative effect" of achieving "swift recompense for injured employees," Brunell v. Wildwood Crest Police Dep't, 176 N.J. 225, 235 (2003), by "providing [a] schedule of payments for temporary disability, partial permanent disability, and total permanent disability." Id. at 237. Thus, the goals of the Workers' Compensation Act and N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1 are separate and distinct.

Application of the Marino factors leads to but one result, the two legislative enactments should not be read in pari materia. Consequently, even if Daganya might have been entitled, as she claims, to Workers' Compensation Act benefits to replace her coaching stipend, she does not have the same entitlement under the statute at issue here, N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1.

Thus, we conclude that the express language of the applicable statute, N.J.S.A. 18A:30-2.1, is at odds with the claim Daganya advances. When the language of the statute is combined with the Commissioner's own interpretation of that statute -- consistently rejecting claims such as the one Daganya advances here -- we are satisfied that the Commissioner's decision of December 30, 2008 is correct. Moreover, because it is neither arbitrary, capricious nor unreasonable, or unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed. See N.J. Soc'y, supra, 196 N.J. at 385.


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