On appeal from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2009-3054.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sabatino and Alvarez.
Deloria Martin, hired as a Burlington County corrections officer in 1995, was terminated on February 13, 2009 for failure to meet the county's residency requirement. Martin appealed the decision to the Civil Service Commission, and the matter was transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an initial decision affirming the termination, which was adopted by the Civil Service Commission on April 30, 2010. This appeal followed. We affirm.
In addition to stipulating as to Martin's employment start and termination dates, the parties agreed that, when hired, Martin resided in Winslow Township, Camden County. Thus, in order to comply with Burlington County's residency policy for all its employees, which had been in place long before Martin's hire, she rented a room in Browns Mills until April 2008. In 2005, Martin sold her Winslow Township home and purchased a larger residence in Sicklerville, also in Camden County, as she then anticipated having family relocate from Florida to New Jersey to reside with her. For financial reasons, however, Martin ended her Burlington County room rental in April 2008. As a result, her only home was in Camden County. That same year, Martin served a sixty-five-day suspension for unrelated reasons between March 23 and September 27.
On April 7, 2008, Martin was advised that if she did not obtain a bona fide residence in Burlington County, disciplinary action would ensue. On November 11, 2008, Martin requested an extension of time and, on December 1, 2008, supplied her employer with documentation that she had again rented a room in Burlington County commencing as of February 1, 2009. She was nonetheless terminated on February 14, 2009. Martin now asserts the Civil Service Commission's decision was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and not supported by the credible evidence in the record.
Judicial review of an agency's final decision is limited. We ask only the following:
(1) whether the agency's decision offends the State or Federal Constitution;
(2) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies;
(3) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and (4) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors. [George Harms Constr. Co. v.N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994) (citations omitted).]
Therefore, "[o]ur function is to determine whether the administrative action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable." Burris v. Police Dep't, Twp. of W. Orange, 338 N.J. Super. 493, 496 (App. Div. 2001) (citing Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 580 (1980)); see also Aqua Beach Condo. Ass'n v. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs, 186 N.J. 5, 16 (2006). "The burden of demonstrating that the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable rests upon the [party] challenging the administrative action." In re Arenas, 385 N.J. Super. 440, 443-44 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 188 N.J. 219 (2006) (citing McGowan v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 347 N.J. Super. 544, 563 (App. Div. 2002); Barone v. Dep't of Human Servs., 210 N.J. Super. 276, 285 (App. Div. 1986), aff'd, 107 N.J. 355 (1987)).
We are not bound by an agency's decision on a question of law. Thurber v. City of Burlington, 191 N.J. 487, 502 (2007). We accord substantial deference to an agency's interpretation of statutes it was created to enforce, however, and only reverse where the decision is "plainly unreasonable" or contrary to law. Stevens v. Bd. of Trs., 294 N.J. Super. 643, 652 (App. Div. 1996).
As a threshold matter, we note that in 1981, Burlington County adopted a resolution providing that the failure of any county employee to maintain a bona fide residence in-county was a basis for removal from employment for cause. Burlington County, N.J., Resolution 383 (Sept. 9, 1981).*fn1 Martin contends that, if her employer was satisfied with her prior rental of a room as a bona fide residence, it should have been satisfied with her resumption of the arrangement. She further urges that, because of her family needs, some accommodation should be made for the several-month period in which she was not a resident of Burlington County at all. Because the county did not allow her a grace period, Martin further contends, the decision was arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial, credible evidence in the ...