Longstreet v. County of Mercer Appellate Decision Shows Credible Evidence, Not Conjecture, Counts in Reversing WCJ


Category: New Jersey

In the case of Longstreet v. County of Mercer (decided 6/20/17), the Appellate Division Court surprisingly reversed the decision of the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) on a credibility grounds noting that the decision must still be based on credible evidence.

The WCJ in Longstreet found that the employee was involved in a compensable work-related accident while plowing snow during a storm on January 27, 2015. The Appellate Division disagreed and felt that the evidence did not support the court’s conclusions regarding the circumstances of the accident and reversed and remanded for a new trial. 

The Appellate Court relied upon the principles of Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589 (1965), (determining whether the "findings made could have reasonably been reached on sufficient credible evidence in the record." (Id. at 599), and Rova Farms Resort v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474 (1974) which advocated only changing decisions on appeal where factual findings and legal judicial determinations are "manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice." (Id. at 484)

The Longstreet court further noted that "an inference by a judge must be a deduction of fact that is reasonably and logically drawn from another fact or group of facts established by the evidence."(Rapp v. Pub. Serv. Coordinated Transp., Inc., 15 N.J. Super. 305, 317 (App. Div. 1951, aff'd, 9 N.J. 11 (1952)

In the case at hand, the Appellate Division determined that there were a variety of errors made and improper inferences drawn, and the noted multiple findings by the WCJ were not supported by facts in evidence from the trial. Due to the errors in fact, logic and execution in the Trial Court decision, the Appellate Division remanded the matter back to the trial level, but directed that the new trial be before a different judge.

Comment: Facts decide cases. Judges rarely get overturned on credibility, but they have to consider  "credible evidence,"not credible conjecture without facts to substantiate their positions. 

For more information, please contact Joseph W. Borucki at jborucki@wglaw.com or 856.667.5807.

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