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In the Matter of Erin N. Sigwart


February 17, 2012


On appeal from the State of New Jersey, Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2009-3961.

Per curiam.


Submitted May 18, 2011

Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Lihotz.

In this appeal, we review challenges to the Civil Service Commission's (Commission) final determination reclassifying the job title of a county employee. Appellant Cape May County (the County), joined by amicus the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office (CMCPO), seeks to overturn the reclassification of the job title of employee Erin N. Sigwart, arguing the Commission's determination was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. Following our review of the arguments presented, in light of the record and applicable law, we affirm.

Sigwart worked for the County in the CMCPO, assigned to the evidence handling unit under the unclassified title, "Prosecutor's Agent"*fn1 (original job title). The Commission*fn2 determined the County had exceeded the cap limiting the number of personnel working in the unclassified division as Prosecutor's Agents and audited the job functions of these employees to discern whether the positions were subject to reclassification.*fn3

On August 26, 2008, as part of the reclassification assessment by the Division of State and Local Operations (Division),*fn4 Sigwart completed a position classification questionnaire. Sigwart's completed questionnaire responded that her primary duties included:

Assist in the preparation of cases for legal action by reviewing laboratory reports to ensure the results are properly documented and correct.

Assist in the preparation of cases by typing the instrument run sequence tables for case work and perform instrument setup . . . . Maintain essential records and files for ASCLD-LAB . . . . [B]eing trained . . . in the identification of drugs. Eventually [to] provide guidance and instruction to law enforcement officers and investigators in the collection and packaging of evidence to ensure each item is properly packaged in order to protect the integrity of the evidence. . . .

Use the Cape May County Prosecutors Office database, Infoshare, to look at pending evidence that agencies will be submitting. . . .

Keep details of Superior and Municipal Court subpoenas for the Forensic Chemist. Contact local Municipal Courts about court appearances for Disorderly Person Offenses as well as Superior Court for felony charges.

Assist in the preparation of cases by performance verification on analytical balances daily to ensure that they are operating properly, which is especially important in cases involving critical weights. Assist in the monthly validation of instruments to ensure that they are performing properly and efficiently in order to obtain correct data for the identification of drugs in cases.

Assist in making standards and reagents used for drug analysis. Perform routine inventory of laboratory supplies including chemicals, instrument materials, and glassware. Assist in the preparation of cases by using the DIB (Drug Identification Bible), PDR (Physician's Desk Reference) and internet to help in the physical identification of pills, capsules, and tablets that are being analyzed. Maintain the laboratory and glassware, making sure that there is a consistent state of cleanliness to prevent contamination of casework.

Give the Prosecutor updates on the laboratory statistics for the month including the Analyzed Case Reports and Progress Report Information. The statistics include the different types of drugs analyzed and the percentage of casework that comes from each agency.

Send documents as requested by the Prosecutor such as Laboratory Reports to police agencies and other departments as requested.

Contact suppliers for purchase order problems and troubleshooting.

As an agent in the laboratory may be called to testify in Grand Jury and trial proceedings on details involving the Forensic Drug Laboratory.

The questionnaire asked, "What do you consider the most important duties of this position?" to which Sigwart responded, "Maintenance of records, files and manuals for ASCLD-LAB accreditation; assist in case preparation, maintenance and track subpoenas; preparation of performance verification; assist in making standards and reagents for drug analysis." On the questionnaire, Sigwart also identified the allocation of her duties. She confirmed ten percent of her job was devoted to ongoing training to prepare her to identify drugs; twenty percent was devoted to monitoring evidence, preparing reagents, and coordinating a weight calibration program; and seventy percent was devoted to typing, cleaning, recording values, record keeping, and ensuring reports were correctly filed.

Evelyn Woods, the acting manager of the local Division office, reviewed Sigwart's responses on the classification questionnaire along with the Prosecutor's table of organization and the results of the Division's on-site audit, see N.J.A.C. 4A:3-3.3(d), and concluded Sigwart's position should be reclassified to the career service position designated as Senior Clerk Typist.

Sigwart and the County appealed the determination to Joe Hill, Jr., the Acting Director of the Division. Hill's review resulted in a modification of title after he concluded Sigwart's duties were most closely aligned with those of a Clerk Typist 2, Evidence Handling (reassigned job title).

Dissatisfied, both Sigwart and the County filed an appeal to the Commission seeking reinstatement of Sigwart's original job title. Sigwart maintained she was the sole subordinate to a forensic chemist, and her tasks required a background in chemistry, including the knowledge of how instruments function, what chemical principles are behind these functions, and laboratory work involving measuring chemicals used in making reagents for drug analysis.*fn5 Sigwart insists these abilities are beyond the capability of personnel working in the reassigned job title. The County similarly argued Sigwart's responsibilities exceed the level and scope of someone classified in the reassigned job title, suggesting maintaining the reclassification would have a detrimental effect on prosecutorial efforts.

The Commission's April 15, 2010 final administrative action considered the defined responsibilities ascribed to the two titles at issue and affirmed the classification of Sigwart's duties in the reassigned job title. The Commission noted the job specification for a Clerk Typist 2, Evidence Handling, describes someone who "[u]nder direction of a supervisory official, in . . . [the] Prosecutor's Office, performs evidence-handling duties as well as clerical work including typing of a complex and/or technical nature, and/or has charge of the activities of a clerical unit; does other related duties as required." In contrast, a Prosecutor's Agent is described as a person, who "[u]nder the direction of the County Prosecutor, performs non-law enforcement duties to assist the Prosecutor in one or more of the following areas: trial preparation; administration; media/community relations; research and data analysis; does other related duties as required."

The Commission reasoned that while "Sigwart might be an expert at handling chemicals, issues such as the incumbent's education, experience or abilities are not factors to be considered in determining the appropriate position classification." Rather, Sigwart's described functions are to be analyzed. The Commission found "over 50% of [Sigwart's] listed duties are clerical in nature, 10% involve being trained[,] and the remainder are laboratory duties." Further, Sigwart did "not perform lab tests or handle drug evidence[,]" she "proofread[] reports[,]" and "perform[ed] low level lab work, and clean[ed] and calibrate[d] equipment and instruments." Finally, the Commission determined that "while [Sigwart] may infrequently (approximately 2 to 3% of time) prepare for and testify about certified laboratory results in [c]court proceedings, this is not the primary focus of the position, nor does it justify a Prosecutor's Agent classification." The Commission emphasized, "job specifications are not intended to be all inclusive or restrictive" as "[j]ob requirements should reflect the minimum acceptable standard and should not include knowledge, skills, and abilities that are acquired on the job after appointment." Thus, because the majority of Sigwart's duties consisted of "evidence-handling duties as well as clerical work including typing of a complex and/or technical nature[,]" the Commission concluded her responsibilities fell squarely within the career service definition of the reassigned job title.

On appeal, the County argues Sigwart's duties are more properly aligned with the job description of her original job title, contending the Commission ignored the fact that some of Sigwart's assigned tasks required an advanced educational level for successful performance and fell outside the title classification of the reassigned job title. The County noted, in addition to handling evidence, Sigwart has "highly technical duties" involving the analysis of the submitted evidence. Further, her job requires higher education in the field of "organic chemistry to understand the chemical structure, reactions and properties of evidentiary substances submitted for testing by law enforcement[,]" and she is required to "review[] laboratory reports to ensure that the results are properly documented and correct[.]" To the contrary, the reassigned job title describes its prerequisite for employment as "a mere two (2) years of experience in clerical work[.]"

In challenging an agency's determination, an appellant carries a substantial burden of persuasion, and the agency's determination carries a presumption of reasonableness. Gloucester Cnty. Welfare Bd. v. State Civil Servs. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390 (1983). "The determinations of the Civil Service Commission, when authorized by statute, are presumed to be reasonable[,]" Volz v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 86 N.J. Super. 268, 275 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 44 N.J. 398 (1965), and our role in reviewing the administrative agency decision is limited. Karins v. City of Atl. City, 152 N.J. 532, 540 (1998). "Courts will not interfere with the actions of this Commission, in the exercise of its broad discretion, 'unless they are clearly arbitrary and unreasonable.'" Volz, supra, 86 N.J. Super. at 275 (quoting Flanagan v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 29 N.J. 1, 9 (1959)). This means we do not "engage in an independent assessment of the evidence as 'if [we] were the court of first instance.'" In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999) (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999)). Rather, in our review, we decide "'whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record' considering 'the proofs as a whole[.]'" Ibid. (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)). See also In re Adamar of N.J., Inc., 401 N.J. Super. 247, 264 (App. Div.), aff'd, 197 N.J. 179 (2008) (stating we must defer to an agency finding "unless it is arbitrary, capricious, unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record, or is in violation of express or implicit legislative policy").

The Legislature has directed the Commission to "[e]stablish, administer, amend and continuously review a State classification plan governing all positions in State service and similar plans for political subdivisions[.]" N.J.S.A. 11A:3-1a. See N.J.A.C. 4A:3-3.2(a). The Commission must "[e]nsure the grouping in a single title of positions with similar qualifications, authority and responsibility" and also "[a]assign and reassign titles to appropriate positions." N.J.S.A. 11A:3-1c and d. In doing so the Commission, through the Division, assigns a job title to every position in the career and unclassified services. Using "job analysis," positions are assigned to a specific job title which "[d]escribes the duties and responsibilities to be performed and the level of supervision exercised and received" and "[e]stablishes the minimum education and experience qualifications necessary for successful performance[.]" N.J.A.C. 4A:3-3.1(b)1 and 2. "No person shall be appointed or employed under a title not appropriate to the duties to be performed nor assigned to perform duties other than those properly pertaining to the assigned title which the employee holds, unless otherwise provided by law or these rules." N.J.A.C. 4A:3-3.4.

The bulk of Sigwart's job functions match the reassigned job title. The fact there may be tasks outside those described in the job description is insufficient to support the claim that she functions as a Prosecutor's Agent.

Sigwart's own description of her duties places the focus of her tasks within the nature of responsibilities of the reassigned job title,*fn6 such as proof-reading reports and checking for attached documentation, neither of which she prepares; typing "instrument run sequence tables"; setting up, calibrating, and cleaning instruments; performing database checks; filing; calendaring; testifying in court; inventorying and ordering supplies; and telephone work.

On the other hand, there is no evidence suggesting Sigwart performs "trial preparation; administration; media/community relations; research [or] data analysis," which are functions of a Prosecutor's Agent. At most, a small percentage of her responsibilities might tangentially be part of "data analysis," as she initially searches for matches of pills and may run routine tests of narcotics. These limited assignments are not her primary function.

We also reject as unfounded the County's attempt to dissect Sigwart's specific tasks, asserting no match is found in the listed description of the reassigned job title. The job descriptions for various titles in the classified division of the civil service are not meant to be all-inclusive and self-contained. Instead, they broadly outline the types of functions assigned to each title to allow uniform application throughout all segments of the government. The Commission recognized Sigwart gained experience, technical expertise in certain areas, and proficiency in performing her duties. Her initiative and diligence appear to have culminated in a degree of confidence by her supervisor that results in Sigwart's performance of tasks requiring a higher degree of skill than others similarly classified. Accordingly, she had been called upon to calibrate laboratory equipment or lecture to newly hired police officers. These assignments are "other related duties" within the reassigned job title that also likely afford Sigwart challenge and interest in her workday. Nevertheless, their inclusion among her tasks would not place her functions outside the scope of the reassigned job title or necessitate that her position be made part of the unclassified service under the original job title.

We discern no basis to interfere with the Commission's determination that the bulk of Sigwart's duties are encompassed within the reassigned job title and that the few higher level duties she performs would not "comprise a majority of her time." We perceive no basis to alter the Commission's conclusion that the reassigned job title is "appropriate to the duties to be performed" by Sigwart's assignment in the forensics laboratory. N.J.A.C. 4A:3-3.4.

Finally, we are not persuaded by the County's predictions that the reclassification of Sigwart's position will "jeopardize the quality of evidence analysis performed at the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office" or the related claim by the CMCPO that "it would be irresponsible to allow someone without a background in chemistry to mix chemicals or handle dangerous substances" and the reclassification will endanger those geographically proximate to the forensic laboratory. Sigwart has diligently performed her duties for the citizens of Cape May County and we foresee no reason why reclassification would cause the decline in her level of care and competency. Certainly, the quality of her work would not be altered by a reclassification of her job title.

We conclude the Commission's classification determination is not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable and, therefore, it must be upheld. Carls v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 17 N.J. 215, 221 (1955); Aparin v. Cnty. of Gloucester, 345 N.J. Super. 41, 57 (Law Div. 2000) (stating an appellate court would only interfere with the Commission's reclassification if its decision was "patently incompatible" with the law), aff'd, 345 N.J. Super. 24 (App. Div. 2001).


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