IN THE MATTER OF ALBERTO APONTE, ESSEX COUNTY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS (NEW JERSEY CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION)

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NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court ." Although it is posted on the internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3. SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION DOCKET NO. A-1782-19 IN THE MATTER OF ALBERTO APONTE, ESSEX COUNTY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. ________________________________ Submitted June 3, 2021 – Decided July 20, 2021 Before Judges Sumners and Mitterhoff. On appeal from the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2019-1614. Courtney M. Gaccione, Essex County Counsel, attorney for appellant/cross-respondent Essex County (Jill Caffrey, Assistant County Counsel, on the briefs). Caruso Smith Picini, PC, attorneys for respondent/cross-appellant Alberto Aponte (Zinovia H. Stone, on the brief). Gubrir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney for respondent Civil Service Commission (Craig S. Keiser, Deputy Attorney General, on the statement in lieu of brief). PER CURIAM The Civil Service Commission (Commission) adopted the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) initial decision overturning the Essex County Department of Corrections' (DOC) termination of Sergeant Alberto Aponte due to a violation of the DOC's drug policy. The Commission agreed with the ALJ's recommendation that Aponte be suspended without pay for six months, demoted from the rank of sergeant, and subjected to random drug tests twice a month for a year upon reinstatement. The DOC appeals, contending Aponte should be terminated. Aponte cross-appeals, contending he did not violate the drug policy because he unknowingly consumed an illegal substance and, therefore, should not be disciplined. Based on our review of the record and applicable law, both parties' contentions lack sufficient merit to warrant extensive discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D) and (E). We therefore affirm substantially for the reasons stated by the ALJ in her cogent initial decision as adopted by the Commission. We add the following brief comments. Appellate review of an administrative agency decision is limited. In re Herrmann, 192 N.J. 19, 27 (2007). A "strong presumption of reasonableness attaches" to the Commission's decision. In re Carroll, 339 N.J. Super. 429, 437 (App. Div. 2001) (quoting In re Vey, 272 N.J. Super. 199, 205 (App. Div. A-1782-19 2 1993)). Thus, we generally defer to final agency actions, only "reversing those actions if they are 'arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or [if the action] is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.'" N.J. Soc'y for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. N.J. Dep't of Agric., 196 N.J. 366, 384- 85 (2008) (alteration in original) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)). We must defer even if we would have reached a different result. In re Carter, 191 N.J. 474, 483 (2007) (citing Greenwood v. State Police Training Ctr., 127 N.J. 500, 513 (1992)). It is not our role to second-guess or substitute our judgment for that of the agency and, therefore, we do not "engage in an independent assessment of the evidence as if …

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