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Mattia v. Board of Trustees

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

June 13, 2018

PAUL MATTIA, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES, POLICE AND FIREMEN'S RETIREMENT SYSTEM, Respondent-Respondent.

          Argued telephonically May 4, 2018

          On appeal from the Board of Trustees of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System, Department of Treasury, PFRS No. 03-10-051127.

          Brooke E, Bagley argued the cause for appellant (Ricci, Fava & Bagley, LLC, attorneys; Ronald J. Ricci, of counsel; Brooke E. Bagley, on the brief).

          Robert E. Kelly, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Melissa Dutton Schaffer, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Christina Cella, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

          Before Judges Sabatino, Ostrer and Rose.

          OPINION

          ROSE, J.S.C.

         Petitioner Paul Mattia appeals from a final determination of the Board of Trustees ("Board") of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System ("PFRS"), finding he was not eligible for accidental disability retirement benefits, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7. Mattia suffered a disabling injury when he slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot of the jail where he was employed, before he was able to check in and receive his assignment. Because Mattia had not yet begun performing his regular assigned duties, the Board denied his claim for accidental disability retirement benefits, determining he was still commuting when he was injured. In doing so, the Board rejected the decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") granting Mattia's petition. We affirm, finding Mattia was still commuting when he was injured in the parking lot.

         The facts are essentially undisputed, and are summarized in the initial decision by the ALJ as follows:

At 7:50 a.m. on the morning of February 19, 2014, Paul Mattia was a Senior Correction Officer, whose regular assignment was as a Gate Officer, employed by the New Jersey Department of Corrections at Northern (Rahway) State Prison.[1] Mattia drove to work, parked his car in the employee parking lot, exited the car, and walked in the parking lot directly towards the entrance portal of the prison building where his post was located. He was reporting for his shift, which was to start at 8:00 a.m. and continue to 4:00 p.m. There was ice in the parking lot. While walking, Mattia stepped into an icy pothole and fell down, sustaining various injuries. These injuries are the subject of the Board's July 13, 201[5] determination [that Mattia is totally and permanently disabled]. Two photographs . . . show that the location of the accident was adjacent to parked cars and the prison building at which Mattia worked. The photographs depict the distance of the accident location from the parked cars, from the prison building, and from the portal towards which Mattia was walking when the accident occurred.[2]

         The sole issue presented to the ALJ was "whether [Mattia's] disability resulted from an injury which he sustained 'during and as a result of the performance of his regular or assigned duties.'" See N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43; Richardson v. Bd. of Trs., 192 N.J. 189, 212-13 (2007). Both parties moved for summary disposition and presented documentary evidence at the hearing, but no witnesses testified.

         Among other documents, the Board submitted for the ALJ's consideration a "Supervisor's Accident Investigation Report, " listing Mattia's job duties as: "Watching [r]esidents; pat frisking [r]esidents; [w]alking [a]round work [a]rea; [r]esponding to incidents." The Board also submitted a document entitled, "Physical Demands Analysis, " dated January 8, 2015, indicating Mattia was "exposed to . . . environmental conditions (temp[erature], hazards, etc.) . . . outside when walking between compounds."

         Mattia submitted his answers to interrogatories with attachments for the ALJ's review. He defined his job duties as including "security of the gate, entry into the facility, inmate transfers to and from facility, inmate supervision as well as tasks/orders directed by supervising officers." He also referenced and included a three-page document entitled "Job Specification, " defining the position of a Senior Correction Officer, and setting forth "examples of work for this title . . . for illustrative purposes only." Two of the eighteen examples listed for the Job Specification are set forth as follows:

Conducts periodic inspections of the locks, windows, bars and grills, doors and gates, and other places of possible egress . . . .
Notes suspicious persons and conditions and takes appropriate measures in reporting significant actions, and occurrences in the buildings and on the grounds; reports conditions constituting dangers and hazards; and takes the ...

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