WILLIAM F. BRUNT, JR., Plaintiff-Respondent,
BOARD OF TRUSTEES, POLICE & FIREMEN'S RETIREMENT SYSTEM IN THE DIVISION OF PENSIONS & BENEFITS, STATE OF NEW JERSEY; HANK SCHWEDES; CHERYL CHIANESE and BERNARDINE BROZENA, Defendants-Respondents, and THE TOWNSHIP OF MIDDLETOWN IN THE COUNTY OF MONMOUTH; and HELEN ALFANO, Defendants-Appellants. WILLIAM F. BRUNT, JR., Plaintiff-Respondent,
BOARD OF TRUSTEES, POLICE & FIREMEN'S RETIREMENT SYSTEM IN THE DIVISION OF PENSIONS & BENEFITS, STATE OF NEW JERSEY; HANK SCHWEDES; CHERYL CHIANESE and BERNARDINE BROZENA, Defendants-Appellants, and THE TOWNSHIP OF MIDDLETOWN IN THE COUNTY OF MONMOUTH; and HELEN ALFANO, Defendants-Respondents.
April 9, 2018
Reargued telephonically May 31, 2018 
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Monmouth County, Docket No. L-1573-16.
Michael L. Collins argued the cause for Township of
Middletown and Helen Alfano, appellants in A-1406-16 and
respondents in A-1457-16 (Archer & Greiner, PC,
attorneys; Brian M. Nelson, of counsel; Kira S. Dabby and
Michael L. Collins, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Ignatowitz, Deputy Attorney General, argued the
cause for Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's
Retirement System, appellant in 1457-16 and respondent in
A-1406-16 (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney;
Daniel F. Thornton, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
S. Loigman argued the cause for respondent William F. Brunt.,
Judges Sabatino, Ostrer and Rose.
J.S.C. (temporarily assigned).
issue in these back-to-back appeals, which we consolidate for
purposes of this opinion, is whether the trial court erred in
granting counsel fees to plaintiff, William F. Brunt, Jr.,
who prevailed in a Law Division action to enforce an agency
decision. Because we adhere to the so-called American Rule,
requiring litigants to bear their own litigation costs
regardless of who prevails, we reverse.
summarize the facts and procedural history most pertinent to
this appeal. In June 2014, plaintiff retired from the
Township of Middletown ("Middletown") Police
Department while serving as interim deputy chief. When
plaintiff's pension calculation failed to include his
increased deputy chief salary, plaintiff successfully
challenged the error before an administrative law judge
("ALJ"). Middletown was not aware of the hearing
and, as such, did not participate. The Board of Trustees of
the Police and Firemen's Retirement System
("Board") subsequently adopted the ALJ's
by correspondence dated May 2, 2016, Cheryl Chianese, the
Board's Retirement and Beneficiary Services Bureau Chief,
advised plaintiff's counsel that additional adjustments
to plaintiff's final salary required an updated
certification from Middletown, so that the Board could
process his recalculated pension benefits. Chianese's
letter stated, in pertinent part:
As I previously advised in 2014, your concerns should have
been addressed directly to Middletown Township before filing
an appeal with the Board of Trustees. We cannot comment on
behalf of [plaintiff's] employer and can only calculate a
benefit based on the salary that is remitted to the Division
of Pensions and Benefits [("Division")] by the
A review of [plaintiff's] membership file has revealed
there have not been additional pension contributions, or
salary reported to the Division as of today's date. If
you have knowledge that the employer will be remitting
retroactive salary information, we will be happy to
recalculate the benefit.
days later, plaintiff filed an order to show cause and
complaint in lieu of prerogative writs in the Law Division,
naming as defendants the Board and its agents or employees,
Hank Schwedes, Bernardine Brozena, and Chianese ("State
Defendants"), and Middletown and its payroll supervisor,
Helen Alfano ("Middletown Defendants").In essence,
plaintiff sought enforcement of the Board's ...