January 14, 2010
HASSAN ALI #440083, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
STEVE JOHNSON AND DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. L-1962-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 4, 2010
Before Judges Reisner and Yannotti.
Plaintiff Hassan Ali appeals from an order entered by the trial court on February 9, 2009, denying plaintiff's motion to reinstate his complaint and enter default against defendants, Steve Johnson and the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC). We affirm.
Plaintiff is an inmate in the State's correctional system. On June 5, 2008, plaintiff filed an action in which he alleged that he has accrued 273 days of "GAP time" credits, 830 days of "COMMUTATION" credits, and 307 days of "WORK" credits. He claimed that the NJDOC had credited him with 437 days of "[c]ommutation" credits, leaving a balance of 963 days of what he called "unusable [g]ood [t]ime [c]redits."
Plaintiff asserted that he had applied to the NJDOC for "compensation" for his "unusable" credits. Plaintiff says that defendant Steve Johnson, an administrative assistant in the NJDOC, had issued a "standing" memorandum dated May 22, 2006, which declared that compensation for "[w]ork" credits was not authorized because it would be tantamount to paying an inmate twice for the same "work". Plaintiff asserted that under relevant statutes and case law, he is entitled to cash compensation for the work credits. He demanded, among other things, cash compensation for the 963 days of "unusable [g]ood [t]ime [c]redits."
On June 5, 2008, the trial court entered an order granting plaintiff leave to proceed as an indigent but denying his application for appointment of counsel. In a statement of reasons appended to the order, the trial court wrote that appointment of counsel was not warranted because the Law Division does not have jurisdiction to address the claims that plaintiff was asserting in the complaint.
The court noted that plaintiff was challenging a determination of a State administrative agency. The court stated that, assuming plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies with the NJDOC, he must seek review of the NJDOC's decision in the Appellate Division pursuant to Rule 2:2-3(a)(2).
Thereafter, on December 19, 2008, the trial court entered an order dismissing the complaint without prejudice pursuant to Rule 1:13-7 for lack of prosecution. On or about January 7, 2009, plaintiff filed a motion to restore the matter to active trial status and for entry of default against defendants.
The trial court entered an order on February 9, 2009 denying the motion. In an accompanying statement of reasons, the court wrote that plaintiff had not shown good cause to reinstate the complaint. The court stated that the Law Division does not have jurisdiction to grant the relief sought in the complaint, as had been pointed out when the court denied plaintiff's motion for the appointment of counsel. This appeal followed.
Plaintiff argues that the matter should be remanded to the Law Division and default entered against the defendants because they failed to file an answer to his complaint. We disagree. In our judgment, the trial court correctly determined that plaintiff had not established good cause to reinstate the complaint because the Law Division does not have jurisdiction to consider plaintiff's claims. As the trial court recognized, plaintiff is appealing a determination of a state administrative agency, and the Appellate Division has exclusive jurisdiction in such cases under Rule 2:2-3(a)(2). Prado v. State, 186 N.J. 413, 422-23 (2006); Equitable Life Mortg. & Realty Investors v. N.J. Div. of Taxation, 151 N.J. Super. 232, 237-38 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 75 N.J. 535 (1977).
We accordingly affirm the trial court's order of February 9, 2009, with the understanding that plaintiff may seek appellate review of the issues raised in his complaint, after he exhausts his administrative remedies, the NJDOC renders a final determination in the matter, and plaintiff files a notice of appeal within the time prescribed by the court rules.
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