On November 4, 2009, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Michael Curtin, Battalion Fire Chief (PM3593G), Elizabeth, Docket No.: A-4861-07T2. In the case, Michael Curtin appealed from the decision of the former Merit System Board (“Board”), now the New Jersey Civil Service Commission (“Commission”), denying his appeal of the scoring of his promotional examination as well as the Commission’s decision again denying the appeal following remand for consideration of supplemental information.
Curtin is employed by the Elizabeth Fire Department with the rank of captain. He took the Department of Personnel’s examination for the position of battalion fire chief, and received an overall score of 89.270. He was ranked third on the eligible list. He appealed the scoring of the oral portions of the examination to the Board. In a five-page decision dated October 11, 2007, the Board denied the appeal.
Curtis appealed to the Appellate Division. On April 14, 2009, in response to Curtin’s motion to supplement the record, the Appellate Division remanded the matter temporarily to the Commission, which had replaced the Board as of June 30, 2008, for consideration of the arguments raised in Curtin’s motion. Following its review of Curtin’s additional arguments and documents, the Commission issued its remand decision on August 20, 2009, again denying the appeal. As a result, the Court permitted Curtin to supplement his brief on appeal.
The Appellate Division noted that the burden is on a petitioner, not the Commission, when challenging the administration and scoring of examination. Moreover, when reviewing examinations, the Commission shall decide any appeal on the written record or such other proceeding as the Board deems appropriate. Finally, the Court indicated that courts should defer to an agency’s grading of a civil service examination except in the most exceptional of circumstances that disclose a clear abuse of discretion.
Applying these principles, the Court was satisfied that the Commission’s decision on the remand was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. The Commission duly re-evaluated the Board’s original decision in light of Curtin’s additional arguments and explained its reasons for disagreeing with his position. Moreover, the Court noted that it was not its role to second-guess the Commission with respect to the scoring of civil service examination and this case does not present “the most exceptional of circumstances that disclose a clear abuse of discretion” warranting such interference.