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Barker v. State

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


February 25, 2009

SCOTT BARKER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Employee Awards Committee, Department of Personnel and the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Docket No. L-908-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 27, 2009

Before Judges Skillman and Grall.

A State agency, the New Jersey Employee Awards Committee (NJEAC), denied Scott Barker, a State employee, an award for making suggestions that he alleges saved the State money. See N.J.S.A. 11A:6-30a; N.J.A.C. 4A:6-6.1(b)2. Barker filed a civil complaint in the Law Division seeking review of that decision, payment for his services and a remedy for violations of the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49, and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -8. The trial court dismissed Barker's complaint without prejudice in order to permit Barker to seek review of the State agency's final decision in this court. See R. 2:2-3(a)(2); N.J.A.C. 4A:6-6.10(d); cf. R. 1:13-4(a).

Barker is a full-time employee of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). He works at the Vineland Children's Residential Treatment Center (VCRTC). According to Barker, "one of [his] job duties is to maintain records on the admission status of children . . . and to supply that information to the Office of Revenue and Financial Reporting in Trenton for reimbursement [from] Federal Medicaid funds to the State of New Jersey." The reports his predecessor sent to Trenton did not include information necessary to obtain reimbursement from Medicaid for residents who were placed in VCRTC on a short-term basis. Like his predecessor, Barker initially filed reports without listing the short-term residents, but he later concluded that Medicaid funds were available for those residents. Barker brought the issue to the attention of his supervisors in 2004.

He suggested that VCRTC include the necessary information in future filings and take steps necessary to obtain reimbursement from Medicaid for the prior year as well. Barker's supervisors agreed with Barker's assessment and his proposals. According to Barker, William Henderson, Manager of the Office of Revenue and Financial Reporting, took several weeks to respond to his inquiry about the availability of Medicaid funds for VCRTC's short-term residents, but VCRTC eventually implemented his suggestions and the State received additional Medicaid funds.

When Barker sought an award for making meritorious suggestions that saved the State money, Henderson advised the NJEAC that residential treatment centers in Ewing and Woodbridge had established procedures for obtaining future and retroactive funds for short-term residents of those facilities before Barker made his suggestions. The Department of Human Services informed the NJEAC that similar claims for Medicaid reimbursement had been submitted as early as 1992 and that Barker's job responsibilities required him to make suggestions about claims reimbursement.

Awards for State employees who make "[m]eritorious suggestions [that] promote efficiency, productivity or economy" are authorized by N.J.S.A. 11A:6-30a. As required by N.J.S.A. 11A:6-31a, the NJEAC has adopted rules to implement the awards program. Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 4A:6-6.5(b)1, an award for a suggestion is considered only if the suggestion is "original, or propose[s] a new application of an old idea." And, even when a suggestion is original, an employee is not eligible for an award if the suggestion "represents a part of an employee's duties and . . . the employee has . . . the responsibility to bring [the matter] to the attention of his or her supervisor." N.J.A.C. 4A:6-6.5(c)1.

Relying on N.J.A.C. 4A:6-6.5 and the information provided by Henderson and Barker's Department, the NJEAC concluded that Barker was not entitled to an award.

On appeal Barker argues:

I. NJEAC IMPROPERLY APPLIED [N.J.A.C. 4A:6-6.5] TO DISAPPROVE THE PLAINTIFF'S SUGGESTIONS AS THAT TITLE IS DEFINED IN THE NEW JERSEY ADMINISTRATIVE CODE TITLE 4A AND SHOULD BE OVERTURNED BY THE COURT.

II. THE APPELLA[TE] COURT SHOULD UPSET THE DETERMINATION OF A COMMITTEE WHEN IT IS FOUND TO BE UNREASONABLE, ARBITRARY, INCORRECT AND CONTRARY TO THE EVIDENT PURPOSE OF TITLE 4A WHEN THAT PURPOSE IS TO INCOURAGE EMPLOYEE SUGGESTIONS TO INPROVE [sic] STATE GOVERNMENT AND BETTER SERVE THE PUBLIC.

III. THE NJEAC MEMBERSHIP IS COMPRISED OF MEMBERS FROM VARIOUS DEPARTMENTS WITHIN STATE GOVERNMENT AND WHO ARE APPOINTED TO THREE-YEAR TERMS.

IV. THERE ARE NUMEROUS FACTUAL MISTAKES IN THE NJEAC FINAL DETERMINATION AND UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THESE SUGGESTIONS CAME ABOUT AND THE COURT SHOULD OVERTURN THIS DETERMINATION.

V. THE COURT COULD CONSIDER THE MATTER OUTSIDE OF TITLE 4A AND VIEW THIS AS PAYMENT OWED FOR [SERVICES] RENDERED.

VI. SUGGESTION NUMBER TWO MEETS BOTH THE ORIGINAL AND NEW IMPLEMENTION OF AN OLD IDEA CRITERIA OF TITLE 4A.

The arguments presented lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). Barker's description of VCRTC's prior practice and his responsibility for keeping and submitting records necessary to obtain Medicaid reimbursement provide adequate evidence to support the NJEAC's determination that he was not eligible for an award because he made suggestions which he had a responsibility to bring to the attention of his superiors. Barker's actions were consistent with the diligent and thoughtful public service the State should expect from its employees, but his suggestions were not eligible for an award beyond the compensation due for competent service.*fn1

Because the trial court should have transferred Barker's complaint to permit this court to review the NJEAC's decision and retained jurisdiction over the remaining claims, we vacate the order of dismissal and remand for further proceedings on those claims. See R. 1:13-4.

The final decision of the NJEAC is affirmed; the civil complaint is reinstated and remanded for further proceedings on the remaining claims.


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