July 26, 2011
TOWNSHIP OF SADDLE BROOK, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
PBA LOCAL NO. 102 AND CHARLES GALBO, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-2532-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 4, 2011
Before Judges Ashrafi and Kestin.
Plaintiff, Township of Saddle Brook (the Township), appeals from an order entered on June 8, 2010, confirming two related Public Employment Relations Commission arbitration awards, effectively dismissing the complaint that sought vacation of the awards and granting judgment on the counterclaim seeking their confirmation. The verified complaint had been filed with an order to show cause. See R. 4:67-2. Judge Russello articulated his reasons for the result reached in an oral opinion rendered on the same date as the order. We affirm.
The arbitrations were the contractually required mode for resolving disputes arising from an agreement between the Township and defendant Policemen's Benevolent Association, Local 102 (PBA). The questions for resolution as framed by the arbitrator in one of the matters, regarding the PBA's general grievance, were whether the Township had "violate[d] the contract, and the derivative interests of retires, when it changed health benefits of retirees? If so, what shall be the remedy?" In the other matter, which involved defendant Charles Galbo, individually, the questions framed were whether the Township had "violate[d] the contract and/or past practice when it denied disabled retiree Charles Galbo health care benefits? If so, what shall be the remedy?" The same arbitrator presided over both matters and held, in each instance, that the contract had been violated.
In sustaining the PBA's grievance, the arbitrator found:
The Township violated the contract when it decreased retirees['] medical coverage by increasing retiree co[-]payments for medical and prescription coverage and when its new insurance carrier required retirees to enroll in (and pay for) Medicare Part B, making the Horizon plan secondary coverage.
The ordered remedy -- the award -- directed the Township
to reimburse any increased co-payments and Medicare Part B payments paid by retirees . . . retroactive to the date the grievance was filed, and to continue to so reimburse retirees for such payments in the future."
The arbitrator also sustained the individual grievance, finding Charles Galbo to be eligible for disability medical benefits as a disabled police officer and that the pre-1985 practice of the parties was to provide such benefits.
The award in that matter directed the Township to provide Galbo with full medical benefits as a disabled police officer once he is no longer employed by any employer providing equivalent or better health benefits.
Judge Russello heard the arguments of the parties on June 7, 2010. In his comprehensive oral opinion issued the next day, he analyzed the background of the matters thoroughly in the light of prevailing legal standards and, in the PBA matter, found that the arbitrator's award was rational, justified, and based upon substantial evidence[.]"
[T]he arbitrator has not committed a mistake in law as to justify vacating the award.
Plaintiff's application is denied and the defendant's request to confirm the arbitration [award], with respect to PBA Local 102, is granted.
In the Galbo matter, Judge Russello likewise concluded:
In arriving at her decision in this case, it was necessary for the arbitrator to analyze and interpret the contract and particularly the parties['] past practice. The arbitrator's interpretation was, at the very least, reasonably debatable and the remedy which she has formulated is rational, appropriate, and not barred by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
The plaintiff has not set forth adequate grounds to vacate the arbitration award and the award is confirmed as to the defendant Charles Galbo.
We need not rehearse the background facts, the dealings between the parties relative to the contract provisions that inform these proceedings, or the principles that governed the trial court's treatment of the issues. The trial court did so exhaustively in its oral opinion.
After analyzing the record in the light of the arguments advanced by the parties, we are in substantial agreement with the reasons for decision Judge Russello articulated. There is no ground in law to upset the arbitrator's decision on either matter. See New Jersey Turnpike Authority v. Local 196, I.F.P.T.E., 190 N.J. 283, 292 (2007) ("[I]n public sector arbitration, courts will accept an arbitrator's award so long as the award is 'reasonably debatable.'"); New Jersey Transit Bus Operations v. Amalgamated Transit Union, 187 N.J. 546, 554 (2006) ("[A] reviewing court may not substitute its own judgment for that of the arbitrator, regardless of the court's view of the correctness of the arbitrator's interpretation."); see also generally Tretina Printing, Inc. v. Fitzpatrick & Assocs., 135 N.J. 349, 354-57 (1994); Barcon Assocs. V. Tri-County Asphalt Corp., 86 N.J. 179, 187-88 (1981).
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