Appellate Review of New Jersey Civil Service Commission Decisions
New Jersey Civil Service law gives significant protections to government employees in jurisdictions which have adopted civil service. It provides an appeals process that private sector employees and government employees in jurisdictions which have not adopted civil service do not enjoy. Most government employment decisions which do not involve minor discipline can be appealed to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Beyond that, decisions of the Civil Service Commission may be appealed to New Jersey’s appellate courts.
The Appeal Process
New Jersey Civil Service Commission decisions are considered “final agency actions” which may be appealed directly to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey “as of right.” This means that the Appellate Division has no discretion in whether to hear the case or not – it must hear the appeal. Appeals to the Appellate Division from final decisions of the Civil Service Commission must be filed in writing within 45 days after the decision.
Decisions of the Appellate Division may, in turn, be appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Unlike appeals to the Appellate Division, however, appeals of Appellate Division decisions to the Supreme Court are not appealable as of right. This means that the Supreme Court has discretion to decide whether it wants to hear the appeal or not. It declines to hear the vast majority of appeals.
If a party wishes to appeal a final decision of the Appellate Division to the Supreme Court, it must file a written notice requesting that the Supreme Court hear the appeal together with supporting papers within 20 days after the entry of the Appellate Division’s decision. The appellant must also file the case record from the Appellate Division with the Supreme Court clerk within 10 days after filing the petition or 30 days after the Commission’s final decision, whichever is later.
The Supreme Court will only grant review if at least three of the seven Supreme Court justices vote to accept the appeal, and then only: If the appeal raises unsettled questions of widespread public importance; if it presents a question similar to that of another pending appeal; if the decision is in conflict with another Appellate Division decision; or if the interest of justice so requires that the appeal be heard.
Scope of Review
The scope of review of decisions by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission is narrow. Appellate courts show deference to the Commission because it is considered the subject matter expert and the Commission, through an administrative law judge, has the opportunity to assess witness credibility. Civil Service Commission decisions will be upheld unless:
- The were arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable;
- They lacked fair support in the evidence before the Civil Service Commission;
- The Commission’s decision violated legislative policies, or did not follow the law; or
- If the New Jersey Civil Service Commission clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably supported based on applying the facts shown by the evidence to the applicable law.
New Jersey appellate courts refer to this as the “substantial evidence rule.” Under the substantial evidence rule, appellate courts will affirm the Commission’s decisions if its findings are reasonably supported by sufficient credible evidence present in the record. This deference also applies to the Civil Service Commission’s evaluation of witness credibility.
However, this does not mean that employees will not get a fair hearing in New Jersey’s appellate courts – they will. When a decision by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission is arbitrary, unreasonable, capricious or clearly mistaken, it will be overturned. Moreover, the Commission must explain its decision and reasons so that reviewing appeals courts can make this determination. It must make specific findings of fact and law. If it does not, the appellate court will overturn the decision and remand it back to the Commission.
The New Jersey civil service system is purely a creation of state law. Therefore, appeals of Civil Service Commission decisions are heard in New Jersey state courts. Federal courts will not hear appeals from New Jersey Civil Service Commission decisions unless there is the appeal contains an allegation that the Commission or employer has violated the United States Constitution or a Federal statute or regulation. Federal Courts will not consider whether or not the decision was just wrong.
Our New Jersey Civil Service attorneys represent government employees in all aspects of New Jersey employment law, including civil service appeals. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a consultation with one of our New Jersey employment lawyers. We can help.