On appeal from the Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System, Department of Treasury, No. 3-10-31222.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad and Fisher.
Jeffrey A. Seider appeals from a final determination of the Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System (Board) denying his application for accidental disability retirement benefits. The Board disagreed with the administrative law judge (ALJ) about whether there was a traumatic event as defined by Richardson v. Board of Trustees, Police & Firemen's Retirement System, 192 N.J. 189 (2007), but agreed with the ALJ that Seider failed to demonstrate his disability was the direct result of the traumatic event, namely his November 9, 1998 automobile accident. On appeal, Seider challenges both findings by the Board as unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record. We affirm.
Seider, a Franklin Township police officer, applied for accidental disability retirement benefits with the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS) in May 2003, and filed an amended application in March 2004. Seider alleged that his disability was a direct result of a traumatic event that occurred on November 9, 1998, causing him to incur injuries to his head, neck, back and knee, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
On September 27, 2004, the Board found that Seider was totally and permanently disabled, which entitled him to ordinary disability retirement benefits, but denied his application for accidental disability retirement benefits. Seider appealed, and the Board transferred the case to the Office of Administrative Law. A plenary hearing was held on November 28, 2005. On February 27, 2006, the ALJ issued an initial decision finding that Seider's disability was not the direct result of the November 1998 accident and recommended affirmance of the Board's action denying accidental disability benefits.*fn1 On April 11, 2006, the Board issued a final administrative decision adopting the ALJ's recommendations. Seider appealed.
By order of November 19, 2007, we remanded the case to the Board for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Richardson, supra, and did not retain jurisdiction.
On May 12, 2008, the Board reconsidered the matter under Richardson, supra, and Patterson v. Board of Trustees, State Police Retirement System, 194 N.J. 29 (2008), and reaffirmed its prior decision. Seider appealed and the matter was returned to the ALJ.
Inasmuch as the transcript of the original hearing was made available to the ALJ, no further hearings were deemed necessary. On January 27, 2009, the ALJ issued his supplemental initial decision, finding Seider satisfied the Richardson traumatic event test, but denied his accidental disability application because Seider's disability was not the direct result of the November 9, 1998 traumatic event. The Deputy Attorney General filed exceptions to the ALJ's finding of a traumatic event.
On March 10, 2009, the Board issued its final determination, adopting the ALJ's findings and rejection of Seider's application for accidental disability retirement benefits with the exception of the conclusion that the automobile accident was a traumatic event. This appeal ensued.
The following is the record presented at the ALJ hearing. Seider became a police officer with the Township of Franklin in 1989. Throughout his career, several significant incidents occurred. In 1990, he was on patrol and suffered a head-on collision with a drunk driver, resulting in some minor injuries, which caused him to take a few days off before returning to work. In 1994, Seider participated in a motor vehicle chase with North Brunswick police during which the fleeing suspect tried to hit his patrol vehicle while pointing a gun at him from the car window. Seider fired two shots and disabled the vehicle. He did not miss work as a result of the incident. In 1996, Seider was involved in an incident where he shoved a prisoner. In 1998, he responded to a call and unsuccessfully attempted to resuscitate an infant. Although Seider did not lose any time from work after that incident, the baby's death upset him.
On November 9, 1998, Seider responded to a call where a man had severed his fingers. Unable to wait for an ambulance, he rushed the man to a hospital in his police vehicle with lights and sirens activated, but his vehicle was struck by another en route. Seider was transported by ambulance after the accident with complaints of neck and back pain, headache, and loss of consciousness. Seider missed time from work and returned to full duty on November 1, 1999. Seider underwent an arthroscopy of the right knee for a meniscus tear. He also continued to treat for back problems and in 2000, he missed work due to persistent pain in his back, neck and knee, and was diagnosed with "right foot drop."
In 2002, while Seider was off-duty, he confronted a high school student who had allegedly stolen his son's bicycle. He grabbed the teenager, pulled him off the bike, and threw him against a responding officer's police car. The on-duty police officers intervened, pushed Seider away, and asked him to let them handle the situation. The suspect was arrested and charged with theft. The police officers filed an Internal Affairs complaint and Seider was suspended for "conduct unbecoming a police officer" and was ordered to have a psychological ...