Appeals from New Jersey Civil Service Commission Decisions
New Jersey civil service law gives government employees in jurisdictions which have adopted civil service considerable protections not enjoyed by other employees. This includes the ability to appeal erroneous employer decisions to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, and to thereafter appeal decisions of the Civil Service Commission to New Jersey’s appeals courts.
Appeals of New Jersey Civil Service Commission Decisions to the Appellate Division
A decision of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission is a “final agency action” which an employee has the right to appeal directly to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. The Appellate Division has no discretion; it must hear the appeal. An appeal to the Appellate Division from a final New Jersey Civil Service Commission decision must be filed in writing within 45 days from the date of the decision.
Appeals to the New Jersey Supreme Court
The New Jersey Supreme Court is the final level of appellate review. However, unlike appeals to the Appellate Division, employees do not have the right to have the Supreme Court hear their appeals from Civil Service Commission decisions. Instead, the Supreme Court chooses whether or not it will hear such appeals. It declines to hear the vast majority of appeals.
A written notice of petition for certification asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to hear the appeal must be filed within 20 days after the entry of the final judgment of the Appellate Division. The petition should include a brief explaining why the Supreme Court should hear this particular civil service appeal. The record at the Appellate Division must be filed with the Supreme Court clerk within 10 days after filing the notice of petition, or 30 days after the Appellate Division’s final decision was entered, whichever is later.
The New Jersey Supreme Court only grants review of Civil Service Commission decisions if the appeal raises unsettled questions of general public importance; if it presents a question similar that presented by another pending appeal; if the decision conflicts with another Appellate Division decision; or if the interest of justice so requires. A minimum of three of the seven New Jersey Supreme Court justices must vote to accept the appeal or it will not be heard.
Scope of Review
Appellate courts show deference to New Jersey Civil Service Commission decisions. The Supreme Court summarized these “well-settled principles” thus:
We need only briefly recite the relevant principles of law that guide our consideration of the issue before us. The scope of appellate review of a final agency decision is limited, and we do not ordinarily overturn such a decision “in the absence of a showing that it was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or that it lacked fair support in the evidence”. As we have consistently stated, our role, in general, is limited to determining:
(1) whether the agency's [ie., the New Jersey Civil Service Commission's] action violates express or implied legislative policies, that is, did the agency follow the law; (2) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and (3) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors.
Moreover, in reviewing agency actions, “appellate courts must defer to an agency's expertise and superior knowledge of a particular field.” Although an appellate court is “in no way bound by the agency's interpretation of a statute or its determination of a strictly legal issue,” if substantial evidence supports the agency's decision, “a court may not substitute its own judgment for the agency's even though the court might have reached a different result.”
This is the “substantial evidence rule.” Under this rule, appellate courts will affirm the Commission’s decision if its findings were reasonably supported by sufficient credible evidence. Appeals courts show deference to the Commission’s – and particularly the administrative law judge’s – evaluation of witness credibility as well.
However, appeals courts will overturn Civil Service Commission decisions which were “arbitrary”, “capricious”, “unreasonable” or “clearly mistaken.” Decisions must be based on a rational analysis, applied on a non-arbitrary basis. The Civil Service Commission must explain its decision and the reasons therefor, and make written, particular findings of fact and law. Appeals courts will overturn or remand Civil Service Commission decisions when the Commission has not reviewed all the relevant information, or where this is unclear on the record below.
New Jersey civil service questions are purely issues of state law. Federal courts will not hear appeals from civil service disputes unless there is an allegation of a violation of the United States Constitution or a Federal statute or regulation.
Our New Jersey civil service lawyers represent government employees in all aspects of New Jersey employment law, including appeals from employer decisions to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, and appeals from decisions of the Civil Service Commission to New Jersey’s courts of appeals. Please fill out the contact form on this page or call us at (973) 890-0004 to schedule a consultation with one of our New Jersey employment lawyers. We can help.