Unsuccessful Applicant Can Review Civil Service Exam

Claudio Tundo took the Entry Level Law Enforcement Examination administered by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. The exam is meant to determine suitable candidates for the Commission’s eligibility list for law enforcement positions in New Jersey. After taking the exam, all passing candidates are placed in an eligible pool, and their names provided to an appointing authority of a specific jurisdiction or agency for use in its hiring process. All non-passing candidates are deemed ineligible, though they have the right to appeal their results and, of course, to take the exam again.

The Commission notified Tundo that he failed the exam, and he appealed its determination and asked to review the questions and his alleged incorrect answers. The Commission denied his request for review, in keeping with its blanket policy of non-disclosure of test materials, due to concerns over test security. It also affirmed his test’s results.

An appeals court ordered the Commission to allow Tundo to review the examination. The Court started with the proposition that “the preparation and administration of civil service examinations is an administrative function delegated most liberally to the authorized examiners of the Department of Civil Service by the Legislature. The fulfillment of that function is a matter requiring special expertise, involving as it does the determination of what job knowledge, skills and abilities are necessary or desirable in a candidate for a particular position, and the highly technical problem of devising suitable examination questions which will demonstrate as accurately as possible whether an applicant possesses those requirements sufficiently to qualify for the position.”

That said, the Court concluded that “however broad its powers may be, the Commission’s discretion is not limitless. We hold that the Commission’s policy of total non-disclosure of exam results and scoring in this case violated Tundo’s due process rights and therefore constituted an arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable act, as the Commission’s concerns over test security did not outweigh Tundo’s right to at least a limited disclosure of the requested materials.

“The Commission’s concerns over test security and costs must be properly weighed against Tundo’s due process rights. Its policy of total non-disclosure is invalid because it forecloses any opportunity by Tundo to support his appeal of his exam results.

“The limited review to which Tundo is entitled must strike a reasonable balance between the Commission’s security and cost concerns, and Tundo’s interest in reviewing the grading of his exam. At minimum, this requires that Tundo be allowed to review the Ability Test component materials, including the questions, his answers, the correct answers, a brief summary of any graders’ comments, and an explanation of the scoring process. For its part, the Commission may impose certain limitations on that review – e.g., the Commission may limit the time in which examinees are allowed to review the materials; limit the disclosure of the actual test questions or answer key; and/or prohibit the copying of the materials, but permit examinees to take notes.”

In re Tundo, 2013 WL 6182458 (N.J. Super. 2013).