On appeal from the Board of Trustees of the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund, Department of Treasury, Docket No. TPAF 395766.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa and Alvarez.
Appellant, Joseph J. Janetta, appeals from the June 5, 2009 Final Determination of the Board of Trustees of the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund (Board) denying his application for accidental disability retirement benefits. In reaching its determination, the Board adopted the Initial Decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ), which affirmed the Board's original decision to deny the benefits. Appellant argues that the ALJ and the Board erred in finding that he did not experience a traumatic event and that he is not permanently and totally disabled. We reject these arguments and affirm.
Appellant was employed as a social worker and counselor since 1986 at the Atlantic County Vocational School. Appellant had been so employed for nineteen years and was fifty years old when the alleged traumatic event occurred on November 3, 2004. Appellant's regular responsibilities involved counseling students, either one-on-one or in groups, about colleges, jobs, or conflicts between students. This is an alternative school, and many of the students were classified as having special needs. The student body consisted of ninth to twelfth graders ranging from about fourteen to twenty-one years of age.
On November 3, 2004, appellant was assigned to supervise the students in the cafeteria during lunchtime. Two students engaged in a verbal altercation, which then escalated to a physical one. A group of students then joined in and began throwing chairs and tables, and kicking and punching their opponents. This was apparently a racially-based dispute between a group of Hispanic students and a group of African-American students. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the students involved in the altercation were armed with any weapons.
Appellant and a security officer intervened to attempt to break up the fight. Appellant escorted one student to the school office, left that student there, and instructed the secretary to call the police. He then returned to the cafeteria, where he observed that the situation had worsened. He again intervened, attempting to break up another fight. He got caught up in the melee and was pushed against a wall and then to the floor. Some students involved in the fight fell on top of him, and apparently did not know he was there.
None of the students were punching or kicking appellant, and none of their aggression was directed at him in any way. He was merely indirectly caught up in the fracas. He contends he was on the floor for fifteen to twenty minutes. He said the most terrifying aspect of the incident was that he and the security officer had no control over the students.
Eventually, the police arrived, and the fight was brought to a conclusion. Appellant suffered some minor contusions of the shoulder, back and hip, for which he was treated by an orthopedic physician. Appellant does not claim disability resulting from these physical injuries, which resolved uneventfully.
Appellant claimed he was extremely upset by this incident, and developed an intense fear of returning to the school. On November 13, 2004, appellant began a course of treatment with Dr. Manya Bean, a psychologist. Over the next four years, he had about fifty-six visits with her.
Appellant never returned to work at the school. He ceased his employment with the school in June, 2005, when he applied for accidental disability benefits. However, since 2003, appellant had been working part-time as an adjunct professor, teaching psychology courses at Cumberland County College and Gloucester County College. He continued in that employment. More particularly, during the time of the administrative proceedings, he was working at Cumberland County College two hours one day per week and four hours on another day; at Gloucester County College he was working one day per week, for approximately four hours.
The classes he taught had about eight to twenty-five students in them. Although the ages of the students covered a broad range, the students at both colleges included some high school students and others in the "traditional" range for college students of eighteen to twenty-one years of age. Therefore, some of the students he was teaching were in the same age group as those at the Atlantic County Vocational School.
Appellant is a musician, and he continued to perform in coffee shops and jazz clubs one ...