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In re Changes in State Classification Plan

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 12, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF CHANGES IN THE STATE CLASSIFICATION PLAN, COMMUNICATIONS OPERATOR, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. [1]

          Submitted May 15, 2019

          On appeal from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2017-3900.

          Oxfeld Cohen, PC, attorneys for appellant IFPTE Local 195 (Arnold Shep Cohen, of counsel and on the briefs; Jesse Humphries, on the briefs).

          Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney for respondent Civil Service Commission (Melissa Dutton Schaffer, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Pamela N. Ullman, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

          Before Judges Alvarez, Nugent and Reisner.

          REISNER, J.A.D.

         This case presents the issue whether the Chairperson of the Civil Service Commission (Chairperson) is authorized to approve the creation of a new job title. We conclude that the Chairperson has that authority and did not act arbitrarily in approving the title at issue here.

         The appeal had its genesis when the Department of Corrections (DOC) submitted a request to the Civil Service Commission (Commission) for the creation of a new title, "Communications Operator, Department of Corrections." The new title would allow corrections officers instead of civilian employees to staff the center control units at the State's prisons. In his February 23, 2015 letter to the Chairperson setting forth the request, the Corrections Commissioner asserted that the new title was required to ensure the prisons' continued security. The Chairperson referred the request to the Commission's Agency Services Division (Agency Services) for review.[2] Agency Services "evaluated the DOC's request and developed a proposed job specification" for the title. On December 17, 2015, Agency Services transmitted the proposal to the Commission for placement on its agenda. However, the Commission was unable to act on the item, for lack of a quorum, after one of the three commissioners recused herself.[3]

         About eighteen months later, when the Commission was still unable to act, the DOC Commissioner sent a June 15, 2017 request to the Chairperson for interim relief. A follow-up request from the DOC noted that "[t]he staffing levels of Communications Operators have dropped to the point of potentially compromising safety and security at all correctional facilities," and creation of the new title would permit the DOC to address the staffing problem. Relying on N.J.A.C. 4A:1-3.2(b)(3), which authorizes the Chairperson to grant interim relief in pending appeals "[b]etween meetings of the Commission," the Chairperson issued a decision granting interim relief on June 23, 2017. The interim decision found that the change was necessary for the safety of the prisons and noted that Agency Services had previously notified IFPTE Local 195 (the union) of the proposed new title, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 4A:3-3.3(a)(4) (requiring notification to appointing authorities and "other affected persons").

         The union, which represents the affected DOC employees, filed an appeal from the June 23, 2017 decision. However, on September 1, 2017, the Chairperson reconsidered the issue of interim relief, and concluded no such relief was required because under Commission regulations amended in 2014, the Chairperson was authorized to approve creation of the new title. He, therefore, issued a final decision approving the new title.

         After the union filed its merits brief addressing both the June and September decisions, the Commission filed a motion with this court to dismiss the appeal, because the June decision was interlocutory, the union did not amend its notice of appeal to include the September decision, and the June decision was moot. We denied the motion and directed the Commission to brief the merits of the appeal.

         Having reviewed the parties' merits briefs, we decline to address the Chairperson's authority to issue interim relief, for two reasons. First, the issue is moot because, on September 1, 2017, the Chairperson issued a final decision approving the requested new title. That decision superseded the earlier decision granting interim relief. Second, as further discussed below, the Chairperson's underlying action - the approval of a new title - is specifically authorized by the Commission's regulations. Hence, this case does not implicate the union's concern that in granting interim relief, the Chairperson may overstep the bounds of his or her authority, in response to the Commission's inability to act due to lack of a quorum.

         Next, we address the September 1, 2017 final decision. In challenging the September 1 decision, the union contends that the decision to approve the title was arbitrary and based on a one-sided process that excluded the union's participation. The union also argues that the Chairperson lacked authority to approve creation of the new title.

         After reviewing the record, we conclude that the decision was not arbitrary and is supported by substantial credible evidence of an operational need for the new title. See In re Johnson, 215 N.J. 366, 377 (2013); Karins v. City of Atl. City, 152 N.J. 532, 540 (1998). The Chairperson's findings were explained at length in the interim and final decisions, and no further discussion is warranted here. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D), (E). We also conclude that the union had notice and an opportunity to submit its views before the title was finally approved. On August 2, 2017, in response to a motion for reconsideration of the June interim decision, the Chairperson gave the union a further opportunity to submit "any additional argument and/or documentation." At that point, the union was aware of the rationale for creating the new title, because the reasons were detailed in the June interim decision. However, instead of submitting evidence supporting its apparent view that the new title was not needed, the union's August 7, 2017 response simply reiterated that the union was deprived of an earlier opportunity to ...


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