On appeal from Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities.
Dreier, Gruccio and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gruccio, J.A.D.
This case involves the rights of a child and his parents at an administrative hearing. We conclude that the administrative hearing was adequate and that an Office of Administrative Law hearing was not necessary. We do find, however, that full disclosure was essential in this proceeding.
J.E. and E.E. are the natural parents and legal guardians (the parents) of G.E. G.E. is presently 23 years old and has a severely compromised intelligence with a long history of maladaptive, attention-seeking and destructive behavior. G.E. has been diagnosed as mentally retarded with atypical psychosis, autistic features and is a carrier of hepatitis B. In order to ensure his personal safety, G.E. requires 24-hour supervision with psychological and medical monitoring. The parents, on behalf of G.E., contest the final decision of the Administrator of the Review Conference who found the New Lisbon Developmental Center (NLDC) to be an appropriate placement for G.E.
The parents contested G.E.'s transfer from the Woods School in Pennsylvania to NLDC by filing a verified complaint and order to show cause with temporary restraints in the Superior Court of New Jersey on June 27, 1989. The complaint and order to show cause sought to have the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) fund the cost of G.E.'s placement at the Woods School in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. The parents assert that this cost is less than the cost of keeping G.E. at NLDC. G.E.'s placement at the Woods School had been funded by the Fairlawn Board of Education but expired on June 30, 1989, when G.E. reached 21 years of age. Upon reaching majority, a student is no longer eligible for educational services funded through his local board of education.
On June 30, 1989, Judge O'Halloran signed a modified order with temporary restraints which required DDD to fund G.E.'s placement at Woods School until July 10, 1989, or until G.E. was placed at the NLDC, whichever occurred sooner. Immediately thereafter, DDD offered placement for G.E. at NLDC beginning July 6, 1989, and informed the parents that payment to the Woods School would cease on that date. G.E. was subsequently moved to NLDC where he has continuously resided until the present. Thereafter, the parents withdrew their action in the Superior Court and filed the present appeal contesting G.E.'s placement at NLDC. Appeals from administrative action must be taken to this court. R. 2:2-3(a)(2).
On November 1, 1989, the parents requested an informal conference with the DDD concerning G.E.'s placement pursuant to N.J.A.C. 10:48-1.3. Of primary concern to the parents was the appropriateness of G.E.'s placement, care, development goals and routine activities. The parents requested the immediate return of G.E. from NLDC to the Woods School.
On January 11, 1990, an informal conference held at NLDC was conducted by Philip V. Conti, Supervising Residential Services Specialist. Plaintiffs presented an analysis prepared by F. Charles Mace, Ph.D.,*fn1 which compared the physical facilities and the habilitative programs of both the Woods School and NLDC.
Dr. Mace's report described NLDC as a large, state-operated care facility that housed over 700 individuals and had a stark, out-dated institutional atmosphere. In comparison, the Woods School was an historic, privately-operated facility which allowed G.E. to play outdoors and to experience a more normal home/work routine.
Dr. Mace's summary stated that NLDC would represent a more restrictive placement for G.E. since there were two-and-one-half times more clients at NLDC than at the Woods School;
G.E. would move from a more normalized home-like setting to a stark institutional atmosphere; and regular access to the community which G.E. has experienced for many years would end. Dr. Mace did find, however, that the quality of the habilitative programming at Woods School and NLDC were comparable.
The DDD denied the request for transfer of G.E. from NLDC to the Woods School. The DDD based its decision on the fact that G.E.'s needs were not out of the ordinary and that they ...