On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Stern and Sabatino.
Tyrone Hodges appeals from a final administrative determination of the Department of Corrections ("DOC"), dated March 28, 2006, upholding a reduction in a commissary sales order resulting from insufficient funds in his prison trust fund account due to deductions for medical and pharmacy expenses. He asserts that the provision of the Administrative Code permitting the Business Manager to withdraw moneys below the minimum balance of $15 to pay for medicine and prescription drugs is unconstitutional and seeks the return of the withdrawn funds.
Appellant filed a "Request System & Remedy Form" on March 20, 2006, requesting that the funds be returned to his account. The request was denied, as was a second request, and he now appeals to us.*fn1 Appellant claims he could not make purchases from the commissary because of the unauthorized withdrawals. He asserts on the appeal, as he did before the agency, that "[a]s a chronic care inmate, there should never have been any loan for medical costs since my account would have less than $15 each time a loan was supplied and repaid." He further contends that "the final decision of the [DOC] should be reversed because it violates his right to be free from excessive charges to his inmate account making him wholly indigent."
There is no dispute as to most of the facts developed in appellant's brief. At the relevant times, appellant was incarcerated at Riverfront State Prison in Camden. He earned a daily salary of $1.30 (approximately $40 a month) from employment within the prison, which was deposited in his inmate trust fund account.
Appellant suffers from epilepsy, type I diabetes, and atopic dermatitis, and has degenerative joint disease in his back and left knee. As a result, he takes a number of prescription medications and classifies himself as a "chronic care" inmate, which would exclude his co-payment obligation. Before us, the DOC objects to that classification, which would relieve appellant from having to make medical co-payments, contending that
[w]hile [appellant] apparently requires care when he suffers a seizure, and he has no control over when he has a seizure, his visits are, in fact, inmate-initiated, and none of the noted exceptions, which include prescribed ongoing treatment and staff-initiated visits to comply with internal management procedures, apply to [appellant].
The DOC also asserts "Hodges is not an indigent inmate" and is therefore not excused from making medical co-payments.
There is no indication in the record as to the reasons for appellant's medical visits and whether they are involuntary, i.e., the result of seizures or other ailments. The only record before us regarding the visits are notations of withdrawals from appellant's prison account and loans, apparently related to treatment and prescriptions. It is therefore unclear to us if there were non-inmate-initiated visits in addition to those for which appellant was charged a co-pay.
Appellant's "Trust Account Statement" for the period of October 13, 2005 through March 13, 2006 contained a certification, dated March 13, 2006, that appellant "ha[d] the sum of $0.00 on deposit in his trust account as of his last posting. . . . [and] during the last six months, the total funds deposited in the inmate's account was $167.70." The statement, which covered six months of account activity, shows that funds were taken from appellant's account for "medical/dental co-pay[s]," "pharmacy co-pay[s]," repayment of medical loans, repayment of pharmacy loans, pharmacy and medical deductions, court fines, and commissary sales. Appellant's account was drawn below $15 on numerous occasions by medical/dental ...