NJ Firefighter Terminated in 2015 Reinstated

A Patterson firefighter who was terminated in 2015 following a positive drug screen, has been ordered reinstated. A three judge panel from the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court  handed down the decision today involving Eric Beagin.

A random urine drug screen on July 17, 2015 indicated the presence of oxycodone. Beagin was terminated on September 18, 2015. He appealed to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, who for reasons not explained, delayed providing him a hearing until 2019. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded that Beagin should be reinstated because the lab results were not reliable. Apparently, the laboratory that tested the sample was not certified, the drug testing equipment was not properly calibrated, and evidence suggested that the lab technicians engaged in questionable practices.  

The city took issue with the ALJ’s opinion and asked the full Civil Service Commission to uphold the termination. The Commission upheld the termination, prompting Beagin’s appeal to the Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division reversed the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and agreed with the ALJ, concluding:

  • [W]e find the Paterson Fire Department failed to prove the drug testing equipment was properly calibrated and standard operating procedures were followed when Beagin’s drug test was performed.
  • [W]e conclude the CSC’s decisions are not supported by sufficient, credible evidence in the record and are arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.
  • We therefore reverse, vacate the final administrative action, and order reinstatement of Beagin to his position as a Paterson firefighter.

Here is a copy of the decision:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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