Tenure Rights Vindicated in the Supreme Court

Miller v. State Operated School District of the City of Newark, ___ N.J. ___ (2019). Today, in a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed, by a 5-2 vote, the Appellate Division’s previously unpublished decision in this matter on the opinion below. That opinion, written by Judge Vernoia, was also approved for publication and appears at ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2019). Justices LaVecchia and Patterson were the dissenters.

The issue, quoted in full here, was whether the defendant school district’s termination of plaintiff’s employment violated her tenure rights under N.J.S.A. 18A:17-2. The Commissioner of Education rendered final decisions holding that plaintiff’s tenure rights had not been violated. The Appellate Division disagreed. Finding that the issue presented was one of law, Judge Vernoia applied de novo review rather than the “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable” standard that he recognized would otherwise apply.

The Appellate Division held that plain statutory language, amplified by the principle that “since tenure statutes are intended to secure efficient public service by protecting public employees in their employment,’the widest range should be given to the applicability of the law,” compelled a decision for plaintiff. Judge Vernoia distinguished two decisions on which the District relied.

Justices LaVecchia and Patterson saw the statutory interpretation issue differently than did the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court majority. But their view did not carry the day.