January 30, 2012
BRUCE SPIEKER, APPELLANT,
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System, Department of Treasury, Docket No. PERS #2-1024835.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 17, 2012
Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.
This is an appeal from the denial by the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees Retirement System of an application for an accidental disability pension.
Appellant was employed by the Department of Corrections as a senior corrections guard at the South Woods State Prison from June 1997 to May 2005. Appellant's regular and assigned job duty was to patrol the perimeter of the prison in a motor vehicle. For the last two years of his employment, he performed this assignment in a Ford Explorer, which had a broken driver's seat that the prison maintenance staff failed to repair. Appellant would spend as much as four hours a day, five days a week, driving this vehicle.
There were approximately ninety speed bumps in the area that appellant was required to patrol. If appellant was required to respond to an emergency code, which occurred frequently, he would have to drive over those speed bumps at thirty-five to forty miles per hour.
As a result of the performance of his job responsibilities under these circumstances, appellant suffered a disabling back injury, consisting of multiple herniated nucleus pulposis and loss of feeling in his left leg and left foot, which caused him to leave his position.
Thereafter, appellant applied for an accidental disability pension. The Board denied the application on the ground that the repetitive stress upon appellant's back from the performance of his work as a senior corrections guard did not constitute a "traumatic event" within the intent of N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43.
Appellant appealed from this denial, and the Board referred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to whom the case was assigned conducted a hearing regarding appellant's application. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the ALJ determined in his recommended decision that appellant's disability was not the result of a "traumatic event" because it had developed over a two-year period*fn1 from repetitive work stress rather than a single incident that was "identifiable as to time and place." The Board accepted the ALJ's recommended decision but concluded that appellant had not experienced a "traumatic event" for the additional reason that the repetitive stress from the performance of his job responsibilities was not "undesigned and unexpected."
We affirm the denial of appellant's application substantially for the reasons set forth in the ALJ's recommended decision as amplified by the Board's final decision. The Board's decision correctly applied the tests for the award of an accidental disability pension articulated by the Supreme Court in Richardson v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System, 192 N.J. 189, 212-13 (2007).