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Vazquez v. Dep't of Corrections


February 6, 2008


On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted January 14, 2008

Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez and Collester.

Appellant Judith Vazquez is an inmate incarcerated at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton where she is serving a life sentence with a mandatory minimum of thirty years following her conviction for murder. She appeals the final agency decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC) denying her request for work pay.

Following a "no work - no recreation" order entered by the DOC following a medical evaluation of Vazquez, she is not permitted to participate in any prison job. Vazquez does not dispute the medical findings but seeks work pay based on her claim that she was injured in August 2004 after lifting heavy boxes in her prison job with the Optical Department.

Following Vazquez's appeal, the DOC moved for a remand to obtain a detailed statement from the medical department as to whether the "no work -- no recreation" orders were the result of Vazquez being injured in the course of prison work. We granted the application, and Dr. Braimbridge submitted a report on behalf of the DOC following review of medical records relating to Vazquez's complaints and treatment of back and joint pain. Dr. Braimbridge related that outside doctors treated complaints of back and joint pain as far back as 1997 and that lumbar disc displacement was identified as of June 14, 2000, which was prior to her incarceration. While in prison, Vazquez reported complaints on five occasions prior to her work assignment to the Optical Department. She made five complaints during the work assignment and sixteen complaints thereafter. Dr. Braimbridge's report concluded:

My overall assessment is that this pt has demonstrated a history of back pain and that any number of events could trigger an exacerbation of pain. Lifting boxes could certainly be an exacerbating cause though X ray of the lumbar spine before and after the assignment were unremarkable. This however does not rule out interim injuries since MRI or CAT scan was not done. Of note, the majority of complaints came after 1/26/05, which is after her work assignment in Optical. In conclusion, medically I have no proof of work related injury during the time 11/7/02 to 8/25/04.

Absent a work-related injury, work pay is awarded only for actual work performed. Trantino v. Department of Corrections, 168 N.J. Super. 220, 225 (App. Div. 1979). However, an inmate who has sustained injuries in the course of employment at the correctional facility and is deemed incapacitated for work by the medical department will continue to receive the same wages until found by the medical department to be ready to return to work. DOC Policy Standard 620; N.J.A.C. 10A:9-5.2(e). Both the medical records from Correctional Medical Services and the report of Dr. Braimbridge indicates that Vazquez's back problems preceded her incarceration and that her complaints continued thereafter regardless of her work assignment. Therefore, there was proof in the record that appellant's claim of a job-related injury was unsubstantiated. Since the decision of the DOC is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record as a whole, we affirm. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D).



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