December 2, 2008
M.N. AND A.R.N., PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS,
DIVISION OF FAMILY DEVELOPMENT, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from a Final Decision of the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, HPW-5496-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 19, 2008
Before Judges Stern, A. A. Rodríguez and Collester.
M.N. and A.R.N. appeal from a final administrative determination of the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development (the Division), denying their request for reimbursement of storage costs and the cost of a search for a habitable apartment for the seven month period between December 2004 and July 2005. We affirm.
M.N. and A.R.N. were participants in the Work First New Jersey Welfare Program, N.J.S.A. 44:10-34, administered by the Essex County Division of Welfare (ECDW) and supervised by the Division. Petitioners' involvement with ECDW began after a fire occurred on November 23, 2003, damaging their apartment. After receiving help from the Red Cross, M.N. applied to the ECDW and secured funds for a security deposit, temporary rental assistance, clothing and a refrigerator. M.N. was also told to keep storage receipts and present them for reimbursement.
After temporary placement at a Newark YMCA, M.N. and the family moved to an apartment selected by the ECDW on St. Paul Avenue in Newark. However, M.N. said the place was in deplorable condition and sought reimbursement from the ECDW for necessary repairs. After being told that they would not receive funds, M.N. filed an administrative appeal of the denial of additional emergency assistance covering storage costs, a cash allowance for food and household essentials, and payment of a second security deposit. After a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), the Director of the Division directed that ECDW pay emergency assistance to M.N. for the maximum allowance for storage costs and restaurant meals, as well as reimbursement for household expenses and a second security deposit. About a month later, M.N. claimed that conditions at the St. Paul Avenue apartment had further deteriorated and requested additional assistance for another apartment. The ECDW agreed to pay the security deposit as well as rental assistance when a suitable apartment was located.
Thereafter, in early January 2005, petitioners sought reimbursement for costs of storage and for a truck rental to transport items to a storage facility. When the ECDW declined payment, there was a hearing before an ALJ who denied petitioners' request on grounds that the same relief was previously received following the initial hearing before the ALJ in April 2004. Petitioners filed exceptions, and the Director remanded to give petitioners the opportunity to present documentation of the condition of the apartment and for a determination as to whether they were entitled to storage costs, moving expenses and truck rental.
At the remand hearing, M.N. submitted receipts in the amount of $1,130 for storage fees from December 2004 through May 2005, and a truck rental receipt in the amount of $66.59, as well as a receipt for $5 worth of gasoline. The ECDW argued that since M.N. was able to pay for the additional storage costs and truck rental, there should be no reimbursement. However, the ALJ disagreed and concluded that petitioners should be reimbursed because they had only the welfare grant to pay these costs. On appeal the Division director reversed and denied the storage costs. This appeal followed.
While this appeal was pending, the ECDW obtained information that M.N. and A.R.N. had fourteen bank accounts with balances totaling over $80,000 as of January 2005. The Division moved before us to remand the case for further fact-finding since the applicable regulation specifies that emergency assistance is not payable when there is another available source of payment. N.J.A.C. 10:90-6.3(a). We agreed, and an expedited remand hearing was scheduled for October 11, 2007. On October 8, 2007, petitioners' adjournment request was granted to the new date of October 22, 2007. M.N. and A.R.N. were notified by certified mail of the adjourned hearing date, and the date was preemptory with no further adjournments.
On October 22, 2007, neither M.N. nor A.R.N. appeared at the hearing. The ALJ proceeded pursuant to N.J.A.C. 1:1-14.4(c), which permits the appearing party to go forward with its proofs. An administrative analyst and a family services worker for the ECDW both testified that petitioners had bank accounts totaling some $80,000 during the period for which they were seeking reimbursement. The ALJ found much of the testimony excludable as hearsay, but based on correspondence between M.N. and the bank she found sufficient evidence to conclude petitioners held eight bank accounts and were not eligible for benefits because of non-disclosure. On December 21, 2007, the Director affirmed the ALJ decision.
Appellants present the following arguments for our consideration:
POINT I - ECWA PLACED PETITIONERS IN AN APARTMENT THAT WAS REPLETE WITH INHABITABLE AND GERMANE DEFECTS AND UPON THE CEILING COLLAPSES IN PETITIONERS' APARTMENT WHICH EMANATED FROM SEVERE WATER FLOODS THAT PETITIONERS IMMEDIATELY APPLIED TO ECWA FOR EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE REGARDING STORAGE AND TRANSPORTATION COSTS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE STORAGE RENTAL WHEREBY ECWA IMPROPERLY DENIED PETITIONERS' REQUEST AND SUBSEQUENTLY A SPATIAL PERIOD OF SEVEN (7) MONTHS ELAPSED PRIOR TO A FINAL ORDER BY DFD WHICH AFFIRMED ECWA'S ACTION PREDICATED UPON THE FACT THAT PETITIONERS HAD COMPLETELY REMUNERATED THE COSTS DURING THE PENDENCY OF THE "INTER-AGENCY APPEALS PROCESS." ACCORDINGLY, AS A MATTER OF LAW THIS COURT MUST REVERSE THE PLAINLY ERRONEOUS ORDER OF THE AGENCY BELOW.
A. THE DIVISION OF FAMILY DEVELOPMENT'S ANALYSIS AND LEGAL CONCLUSIONS ARE PLAINLY WRONG AND AS SUCH THIS COURT OWES NO DEFERENCE TO THE LEGAL CONCLUSIONS OF THE AGENCY BELOW AND IT'S FINAL ORDER MUST BE REVERSED BY THIS COURT.
Under our limited scope of review of a final agency decision we are to "survey the record to determine whether there is sufficient credible competent evidence in the record to support the agency head's conclusions." Clowes v. Terminix Int'l, Inc., 109 N.J. 575, 587 (1988); Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963); Renan Realty Corp. v. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs, 182 N.J. Super. 415, 419 (App. Div. 1981). After careful review of the record, we find that the decision of the Division is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record as a whole and that the arguments made by petitioners M.N. and A.R.N. are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D) and (E).
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