Recently, the Appellate Division issued an opinion in the case In the Matter of Sanchez that addressed the applicability of the 45 Day Rule in a removal case. In that case, a police officer, the appellant, appealed his termination for engaging in sexual acts with a civilian in his marked police car while on duty. During the course of an internal affairs investigation of another officer, the appellant admitted to having sex with an individual but denied having sex in his patrol car. In a later interview, however, the appellant admitted to having sex in his patrol car. Subsequently, he was charged with multiple violations of the Division’s regulations and rules as well as conduct unbecoming a public employee and misuse of public property.
The Civil Service Commission adopted the findings of fact and conclusions of law rendered by an Administrative Law Judge, wherein which the Judge dismissed some of the charges, upheld others, and upheld the appellant’s termination from employment. On appeal, the appellant argued the charges were time-barred under the auspices of the 45 Day Rule, N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147, and that a substantial suspension, rather than termination was warranted.
The Appellate Division affirmed the Civil Service Commission’s determination for substantially the same reasons stated by the Administrative Law Judge, thereby upholding the appellant’s removal from employment. To this end, the Court determined the Judge correctly found that the 45 Day period in N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 did not begin to run until the day the appellant admitted he had sex with an individual in his patrol car. Additionally, the Court found that progressive and/or incremental discipline did not have to be applied in every disciplinary setting and the appellant’s conduct was sufficiently egregious to warrant removal.
The time period as to when the 45 Day Rule contained in N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 or in a collective negotiations agreement applies is a fact sensitive determination. In simple terms, it is not always clear as to when the 45 Day Rule begins to “run” in a given case. Nevertheless, the 45 Day Rule is an important protection afforded to most law enforcement officers that ensures certain disciplinary charges are brought in a timely fashion. As such, should you ever be faced with disciplinary charges, it is imperative you consult with an experienced attorney familiar with the nuances of the 45 Day Rule and its potential applicability in a given situation.