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Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington v. McCorkle

Decided: January 5, 1968.


Martino, A.j.s.c.


[98 NJSuper Page 453] The parties to this litigation have agreed upon the facts and have filed with the court a stipulation of those facts.

The basic legal questions deal with the application of certain New Jersey laws to inhabitants of Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base, two federal military bases located within the boundaries of Burlington County.

Two distinct factual patterns are involved. The first relates to children, born to inhabitants of the bases, who become dependent and require the care or guardianship of the New Jersey Bureau of Children's Services. The second concerns base inhabitants who become mentally ill and require admission to a State Hospital for care and treatment.

Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment against the defendants, while the latter counterclaim for a declaratory judgment against the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs contend that L. 1938, c. 354, ceded jurisdiction to the United States over lands theretofore acquired by it for military purposes in Burlington County and concurrent jurisdiction was reserved by the State only for the execution of civil and criminal process. Additionally, N.J.S.A. 52:30-1 and 52:30-2, incorporating the provision of the general cession act of March 29, 1907 (L. 1907, c. 19) cede exclusive jurisdiction to any land acquired by the United States, for certain enumerated purposes, the State retaining concurrent jurisdiction only for the service of process in civil and criminal proceedings.

Plaintiffs further contend that these acts preclude a County Court from committing any inhabitant of the two federal bases to a state hospital and preclude the county adjuster from processing applications for such commitments.

Defendants, however, contend that N.J.S.A. 30:4-27 to 31 permit the county court to commit any person believed to be mentally ill to a state hospital, whether a resident or nonresident, and notwithstanding the person may be an inhabitant of one of the military bases; that said base residents are entitled to care in a state hospital, and that the county adjuster is not precluded by any law from processing such applications for their commitment.

The United States of America has filed an amicus curiae brief with the court in which it joins with these defendants in contending that the inhabitants of the federal bases are entitled to the services involved.

Plaintiffs contend that the Federal Government has created the problems which exist with respect to the welfare of residents of federal enclaves, and by shunning its responsibilities the Federal Government seeks to place the burden upon the taxpayers of adjoining sovereignties.

Plaintiffs further contend that no federal legislation has been enacted to attend to the needs of children resident upon federal territory, and the only pertinent welfare legislation in effect is a provision of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 721) which requires the several states to participate in child welfare programs in order to receive benefits from the Federal Government. Plaintiffs feel that the absence of legislation does not mean that the Federal Government should be permitted to cast upon the states a portion of its responsibilities with respect to needy children and the mentally ill resident upon federal territory.

Plaintiffs make the further argument that because some states have accepted the authority to oversee the welfare of inhabitants of a federal enclave does not mean that the responsibility thereof rests with the states, and if the states failed to cooperate it is extremely likely that the Federal Government would then assume its responsibility by means of enactment of necessary legislation.

The New Jersey Bureau of Children's Services is the state agency required to provide care, custody, guardianship, maintenance and protection of children, and welfare services, or maintenance, or both, for dependent and neglected children under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-1 et seq.

Whenever the Bureau receives an application on behalf of any child "within this State," pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-11, setting forth that the child is of such circumstances that his welfare will be endangered unless proper care and custody is provided, it may, following verification of the facts of the

application, accept and provide such care and custody as the circumstances of the child may require.

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15, if, after the Bureau accepts a child into its care and custody, it appears that the best interest of the child requires that he be placed under guardianship, the Bureau may file a petition for guardianship with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of the county "where such child may be at the time of filing of such petition." Upon completion of the hearing in such action, if the court is satisfied that the best interests of the child require that he be placed under guardianship, the court, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-20, shall make an order committing the child to the guardianship and control of the Bureau.

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-30, the cost of maintenance provided for any child under the provisions of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-1 et seq. "shall be shared equally by the State and by that county where such child may be or may have been at the time of the filing of an application seeking care or custody, or at the time of the filing of a petition seeking guardianship," and payments from county funds for the county share shall be made monthly by the county treasurer to the Bureau on the basis of commitments for such county upon bills furnished by the Bureau.

While plaintiffs do not deny the existence of these statutes, they contend, however, that these provisions do not apply to children who live at Fort Dix or McGuire Air Force Base, the two military bases located in Burlington County. They contend that N.J.S.A. 52:30-2 or, in the alternative, L. 1938, c. 354, precludes the court from invoking its jurisdiction over any infants living at the military bases, and also supersedes N.J.S.A. 30:4C-30, with the result that Burlington County cannot be held liable for its share of the care and maintenance of such children.

The State of New Jersey receives federal monies under 42 U.S.C.A. § 726, to spend for research, training, or demonstration projects in the field ...

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