At issue in this matter is whether a municipality, as defined in N.J.S.A. 44:8-108, is bound by the rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner for the carrying out of the provisions of the General Public Assistance Law, N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 to 44:8-145, if it does not elect to apply for state aid which is also provided for under the law. There is no case that we have found that is directly on point.
The matter is before the court on application of plaintiff Glendon Ricker for summary review of action taken by defendant Shirley Lawson, Director of Welfare of the Borough of Bloomingdale, with regard to the extent of plaintiff's right, if any, to receive public assistance. Jurisdiction is conferred upon this court by virtue of N.J.S.A. 44:1-86 which provides:
The director of welfare in the municipality shall determine who are to be relieved by him, subject to an application by any person on at least five days' notice, to the juvenile and domestic relations court, by complaint, in writing, applying for a summary review and
determination by the court of the action of the director as to the extent and amount of relief, if any, to be rendered.
Plaintiff, a 40-year-old single male, resided in the Borough of Bloomingdale for over six years prior to applying for public assistance in November 1976. He had worked regularly for over 16 years until November 1975, when he felt physically exhausted and completely unable to work. Upon terminating his employment he sought both medical and psychological help and is, at this time, attending group therapy sessions five times a week. Plaintiff also applied for state disability benefits and received them for a period of 30 weeks. Subsequent to this, and after exhausting his savings and failing to secure any other form of welfare benefit, he applied to defendant, Director Lawson for public assistance. He was found eligible and provided with payments for rent and food, although not on a regular monthly basis, until the end of April 1977. The total amount provided for this six-month period was $954, an average of $159 a month.
On May 12, 1977 plaintiff received a pre-printed form with certain information typed in (italicized below) from the Bloomingdale Welfare Department entitled, "Notice of Intention to terminate assistance under the General Assistance Program," signed by Director Lawson. It was dated April 29, 1977 and provided in part:
This is to notify you that it appears you are no longer eligible to continue to receive benefits under the General Assistance Program because failure to provide medical evidence of illness and failure to acquire work and in accordance with section 325 and 327 of the General Assistance Manual, your assistance will be terminated as of April 27, 1977.
Under this last date was the following: "Date to be entered shall be not less than ten (10) calendar days following the date of this notice." (In spite of this preprinted warning, this date is obviously two days prior to the date of the notice.)
The form also advised plaintiff that he had the right to request a hearing within ten days of the mailing date of the notice and to be represented by an attorney. It further stated: "If you should request a hearing, assistance will be continued unreduced until the hearing is held and a final decision is made." On the bottom of the form the following is printed: "New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies -- Division of Public Welfare."
A request for a hearing was timely made. The hearing was held on July 20, 1977. According to the minutes of this hearing, it was resolved that a final decision would not be made until plaintiff's psychiatric testing results were received. Plaintiff was to be examined on July 21, 1977. A final decision to deny future relief was not made until September 23, 1977, ten days after plaintiff initiated this action.
Subsequent to the hearing, on August 28, 1977, plaintiff was evicted from his apartment for nonpayment of rent. He was forced to spend two nights sleeping in a car until, with the help of defendant, he located a room at the Passaic YMCA where he is still living.
During the four-month period between the preparation of the aforementioned notice of termination and August 31, 1977, plaintiff received no benefits from the defendant.
Plaintiff filed his complaint with this court on September 13, 1977 and sought a determination of the extent and amount of relief, if any, to which he was entitled from defendant for the period subsequent to the preparation of the notice, and a determination as to whether he is entitled because of his present physical and mental condition to future relief. In light of the fact that plaintiff has now been found eligible to receive general assistance payments from the City of Passaic which, in turn, is being reimbursed by Bloomingdale, the application for the latter relief has been withdrawn. Our concern is with whether the plaintiff is entitled to receive any relief for the four-month period, May through August.
Plaintiff contends that defendant is subject to the General Public Assistance Law, N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 et seq., and to the rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner pursuant to it and contained in the New Jersey General Assistance Manual.
Defendant admits that she is subject to the General Public Assistance Law, but, relying on N.J.S.A. 44:8-111(d) and Harris v. Emory , 138 N.J. Super. 198, 208 (J.D.R. Ct. 1975), contends that she is not subject to the rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner because she had not elected to apply for state aid in financing her local assistance program. Defendant also contends that she has the discretion, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 44:8-127, to summarily revoke any order for continued assistance whenever it appears that the recipient no longer qualifies under the law, and that she is under no obligation to provide the recipient with the aforediscussed notice or to continue payments until the date of the hearing, again because Bloomingdale did not elect to obtain State aid. Defendant makes this contention in spite of the fact that she took it upon herself to advise plaintiff in the aforementioned written notice that he had definite rights promulgated in the Public Assistance Manual. Defendant further argues that it complied with the mandates of the Manual to a "reasonable" degree, and that, in any event, plaintiff failed to prove that he was medically unable to work, as that term is used in the Manual. (See New Jersey General Assistance Manual , c. III, § 327.) In view of the manner in which we resolve the matter before the court, we do not reach the factual issue as to whether plaintiff adequately substantiated through current medical information his ability to work because of a physical or mental condition.
As stated, the issue is whether a municipality, as defined by N.J.S.A. 44:8-108, is bound by the rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner for the carrying out of the provisions of the General Public Assistance Law, N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 through 145, if it does not elect to
apply for the state aid which is also provided for ...