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Valeria Headen v. Jersey City Board of Education

May 12, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-752-09.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lihotz, J.A.D.



Argued March 30, 2011

Before Judges Axelrad, Lihotz and J.N. Harris.*fn1

The opinion of the court was delivered by LIHOTZ, J.A.D.

We are asked to determine whether school districts that have adopted the New Jersey Civil Service Act, N.J.S.A. 11A:1-1 to :12-6 (the Act or Civil Service Act), are required to extend vacation leave to the district's ten-month food service employees pursuant to N.J.S.A. 11A:6-3, and an implementing regulation, N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.1(e). We consider the question in light of the circumscribed provisions governing educational employees set forth in Title 18A.

Plaintiff Valerie Headen, as the class representative, appeals from the Law Division's July 9, 2010 order. The court denied plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and granted the cross-motion of defendant Jersey City Board of Education, resulting in the dismissal of the class action complaint seeking an award for past, current and future vacation leave. Plaintiff argues the court erred as a matter of law. We disagree and affirm.


The applicable facts are not disputed. Plaintiff is employed by defendant as a food service worker. She started in this position on February 17, 2006, working a full school day, ten months per year. The Jersey City school district is one of the State's poorer urban districts, first identified in Abbott v. Burke, 100 N.J. 269, 278 (1985) (Abbott I). The State Board of Education "initiated a full take-over" of the Jersey City school district, "appointing a state district superintendent to supplant the local district board of education and direct all operations of the district[,]" pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-15. Abbott v. Burke, 119 N.J. 287, 352 (1990) (Abbott II).

Plaintiff is a member of two bargaining units. She is represented by the Paraprofessionals Association, an affiliate of the Jersey City Education Association, and Local 2262 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, which together represent her and others similarly situated when reaching collectively negotiated agreements (CNA) governing the terms and conditions of employment of defendant's personnel. In the past, the respective CNA provided plaintiff with paid time off including a one-week winter break, a one-week spring break, two days for the annual teachers' convention, approximately fifteen holidays and requested personal days. During the 2008-2009 school year plaintiff's total leave time, comprised of the above periods, totaled twenty-eight days.

Plaintiff's putative class action complaint sought current and future vacation leave during the school year, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 11A:6-3 of the Act, and an award of compensation for vacation time not previously allowed. A different Law Division judge certified the class, which was defined as "all full-time ten-month employees of the [defendant] in the career service (excluding employees in the unclassified service)."

Plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment seeking a determination of whether the class members were entitled to vacation leave pursuant to N.J.S.A. 11A:6-3 and N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.2(b). Plaintiff argued she fell within the parameters of the statute, which governs vacation leave for "full-time political sub-division" civil servant employees. N.J.S.A. 11A:6-3. Defendant opposed the motion and filed a cross-motion seeking summary judgment, arguing N.J.S.A. 11A:6-3 does not apply to ten-month school district employees, rather the terms of plaintiff's employment were governed by Title 18A.

Following oral argument, Judge Alvaro Iglesias entered an order on July 9, 2010, supported by a written memorandum, denying plaintiff's motion and granting defendant's. A subsequent order dated July 19, 2010, dismissed plaintiff's complaint as no further outstanding issues requiring disposition were presented. This appeal ensued.


We recite the legal principles that guide our review. Further, we set forth those statutory provisions at issue on appeal.


No deference is given to a trial court's legal conclusions, as we review such conclusions de novo. City of Atl. City v. Trupos, 201 N.J. 447, 463 (2010); Estate of Hanges, 202 N.J. 369, 382 (2010). In our review of the grant or denial of summary judgment, we use the same standard as the trial court. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998). The "essence of the inquiry" is "'whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 536 (1995) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2512, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 214 (1986)).


Our determination of the issues presented in this appeal centers on statutory review. "The primary goal in any matter requiring interpretation of a statute is to discern and implement legislative intent." In re Military Serv. Credit For State Teachers, 378 N.J. Super. 277, 281 (App. Div. 2005) (citing State v. Reiner, 180 N.J. 307, 311 (2004)).

We begin our analysis by considering "the statutory language because the clearest indication of a statute's meaning is its plain language." Ibid. "Legislative intent is to be gleaned from the entire statute, . . . read so that each provision aligns with the intent of the entire act." Boardwalk Regency Corp. v. N.J. Casino Control Comm'n, 352 N.J. Super. 285, 300 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 174 N.J. 366 (2002). "If the meaning of the text is clear and unambiguous on its face, we enforce that meaning." Reiner, supra, 180 N.J. at 311. If some ambiguity exists, we are obligated to view the statute as a whole and consider all of its ...

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