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Michael Buccilli v. Board of Trustees

June 27, 2012


On appeal from the Board of Trustees, State Police Retirement System.

Per curiam.


Argued January 25, 2012

Before Judges Cuff, Lihotz, and Waugh.

Michael Buccilli appeals from the final agency decision of the Board of Trustees (Board) of the State Police Retirement System (SPRS), which denied his application for accidental disability retirement benefits. Because we conclude that Buccilli did not satisfy the standard required for accidental disability retirement benefits in a "mental-mental" disability case, we affirm.


We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.

Buccilli became a member of the New Jersey State Police in March 2002. On April 19, 2005, Buccilli went to the State Police shooting range to complete firearms qualification. Buccilli arrived in his Class B uniform, on which he had sewn a yellow bar that was only to be worn on his Class A uniform. At the time, Buccilli was not aware that the yellow bar was not supposed to be worn on his Class B uniform.

Throughout the day, Buccilli was teased by a sergeant and several troopers about being "out of uniform." Trooper Michael Stonnell called the Bass River station, to which he and Buccilli were then assigned, to joke about the incident with other troopers assigned there. At the time, Buccilli understood the comments directed at him as jokes.

On April 22, following his annual physical examination, Buccilli reported to the Bass River station to complete a training program. When Buccilli arrived at his locker, he noticed several yellow pieces of paper, about the size of the yellow bar he had sewn onto his uniform, taped to his locker. He concluded they were placed there by his fellow troopers as a joke, and threw them away. When Buccilli went to a computer at the station to sign in, he noticed comments next to his name in the computer system stating that he was "sewing [the yellow] bars on his civilian clothes." Buccilli continued to believe that the pieces of paper and remarks were intended as jokes, but would have preferred that nothing had been entered in the computer system. Buccilli next went to his mailbox, where he found more yellow pieces of paper. He threw them away and proceeded to work on his training module.

Before Buccilli completed his training, Sergeant Stephen Burns instructed him to prepare for patrol. When Buccilli returned to the locker room, he noticed that more imitation yellow bars had been placed on the bench near his locker. He opened his locker, which had a previously-broken lock, to find that someone had used what appeared to be "yellow-out" correction fluid to paint a yellow bar on his Class A uniform.

Buccilli reported to Burns that his uniform had been damaged, but asked Burns not to report it because he feared the potential backlash of an internal investigation. Buccilli confronted Stonnell, whom he believed was responsible for the damage to his uniform. Stonnell denied the allegation. Burns subsequently reported the incident to Sergeant Andrew Randik. It was also brought to the attention of Lieutenant David Jillson.

On April 27, Buccilli's next scheduled day of work, Stonnell took lunch orders from everyone in the same room as Buccilli, but did not take one from Buccilli. On April 28, Stonnell confronted Buccilli about rumors circulating in the station that Stonnell was the one who had gone into Buccilli's locker. As a result of his continuing problems, Buccilli became concerned that Stonnell and other troopers might not provide him with backup while on patrol.

On May 12, while off-duty for unrelated medical reasons, Buccilli received a call from Randik about overdue reports. Buccilli told Randik that he would report for work the next day to complete his reports, even though he was scheduled to take the day off for medical reasons. While working on his reports the following day, Buccilli heard Jillson comment to Sergeant Francis Donlan that personnel with outstanding reports should receive performance notices. When Buccilli turned in his completed reports, Donlan "berat[ed]" Buccilli for taking so long to complete his reports. Buccilli explained that he had been out of work due to a medical condition, and explained that the backlog of reports resulted from the large number of arrests he made in a short period of time.

On May 18, Buccilli reported for an assignment in the Detective Bureau. When he arrived, he found a negative performance notice from Randik in his mailbox. It criticized him for failing to make entries in his vehicle log. Because two other troopers had been allowed to update their log books that day without receiving performance notices, Buccilli believed that he was being singled-out for criticism.

Buccilli then asked to speak to Jillson, whom he told about the locker incidents and the negative treatment he believed he was receiving. He told Jillson he wanted it to stop. Fearing further retaliation, however, Buccilli requested that Jillson not initiate an Internal Affairs investigation. Although Jillson told Buccilli he would handle the situation informally, he subsequently informed Buccilli that he had no choice but to report the locker incidents to Internal Affairs.

On May 21, Buccilli received a telephone call from another trooper who told him that there were rumors that he started an investigation against the Bass River station and that he thought he was working harder than the other troopers there. The trooper also told Buccilli that troopers at the station were afraid to speak with him because they believed he ...

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