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In re Corbo

Supreme Court of New Jersey

June 17, 2019

In the Matter of Corey Corbo, Union City Police Department.

          Argued January 14, 2019

          On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

          Andrew Gimigliano argued the cause for appellant Union City Police Department (O'Toole Scrivo Fernandez Weiner Van Lieu, attorneys; Andrew Gimigliano and Juan C. Fernandez, of counsel and on the briefs, and Kenneth B. Goodman, on the briefs).

          Joshua M. Forsman argued the cause for respondent Corey Corbo (Caruso Smith Picini, attorneys; Steven J. Kaflowitz, on the brief).

          FERNANDEZ-VINA, J., writing for the Court.

         The Civil Service Commission (CSC), upholding an initial decision by an administrative law judge (ALJ), issued a final agency decision removing Officer Corey Corbo from the Union City Police Department (UCPD) because he ingested cocaine. At issue in this matter is the Appellate Division's decision to reverse the CSC's final determination without remand for further hearings on the admissibility of medical records. In other words, the Court considers not the substantive issues raised in this appeal, but only the remedy imposed.

         Officer Corbo became gravely ill while at home with his girlfriend and colleague, Officer Jessica Garcia. Garcia called 9-1-1 and later admitted that Corbo had ingested cocaine five days earlier. The paramedics rushed Corbo to the hospital, where his laboratory results came back positive for cocaine. Relying on the hospital records, which included the positive lab results, and Garcia's statement about the cocaine, Union City terminated Corbo's employment with the UCPD.

         Corbo filed an appeal with the CSC and the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), and an administrative hearing was held before an ALJ. The City offered both Garcia's statement and the hospital records into evidence, and the ALJ relied on both to reach her decision recommending Corbo's termination.

         The Appellate Division reversed the decision removing Corbo from the UCPD, holding that the ALJ erred when she admitted the hospital records into evidence without first requiring the City to lay foundational testimony to satisfy the requirements of the business records hearsay exception. It also held that the City failed to establish the reliability of the lab results or to introduce other competent evidence at the hearing but did not remand for further evidentiary proceedings. That is the crux of this matter.

         The City moved for reconsideration seeking a remand, but the Appellate Division denied the motion. The City then petitioned for certification only as to the Appellate Division's disposition of this case through reversal without remand for further fact finding. The Court granted its petition. 234 N.J. 1 (2018).

         HELD: The Court modifies the judgment of the Appellate Division and remands this matter to the OAL for further proceedings to allow the City the opportunity to demonstrate that the hospital records are admissible as business records, and the opportunity to present any other theories of admissibility.

         1. Case law demonstrates that the preferred remedy to rectify procedural errors at the administrative level is a remand. Depriving a litigant of an opportunity to adjudicate its case on the merits runs counter to the well-established goals of the Court's jurisprudence. (pp. 10-12)

         2. The Appellate Division's remedy of reversing the ALJ's determination without remand prevents the City from arguing its case on the merits. The preferred remedy to rectify procedural errors at the administrative level is to remand the matter to allow for further evidentiary findings. (p. 12)

         3. The Court does not consider the underlying evidentiary issues raised in this case or disturb determinations as to those issues. The Court makes no evidential rulings. (p. 13)

         The remedy imposed by the Appellate Division is MODIFIED, and the matter is REMANDED to the Office of Administrative Law for further proceedings.

          CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, PATTERSON, and SOLOMON join in JUSTICE FERNANDEZ-VINA'S opinion. JUSTICE TIMPONE did not participate.

          OPINION

          FERNANDEZ-VINA JUSTICE

         The Civil Service Commission (CSC), upholding an initial decision by an administrative law judge (ALJ), issued a final agency decision removing Officer Corey Corbo from the Union City Police Department (UCPD) because he ingested cocaine. At issue in this matter is the Appellate Division's decision to reverse the CSC's final determination without remand for further hearings on the admissibility of medical records. In other words, we consider not the ...


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