October 27, 2010
BARBARA E. MOORE, APPELLANT,
THE NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DIVISION OF FAMILY DEVELOPMENT, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, Docket No. GA256556.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 6, 2010
Before Judges Gilroy and Ashrafi.
Appellant Barbara Moore appeals from a final administrative decision of the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, dated June 12, 2009, denying her claim for $3,160.04. We affirm.
The documentary record establishes the following facts. In 2006, Moore applied to the Atlantic County Board of Social Services for financial assistance. Moore also applied to the Social Security Administration of the federal government for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Under State and federal laws, the county welfare agency was permitted to require, as a condition for its payment of interim welfare benefits, that the recipient sign an agreement to repay those benefits in the event that she later received SSI benefits for the same time period. See N.J.A.C. 10:90-14.5; 42 U.S.C.A. § 1383(g); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1901 to -.1922.
On July 18, 2006, Moore signed a form entitled "Agreement to Repay Assistance from Initial SSI Payment." By her signature, Moore agreed to "repay promptly to the County/Municipal Welfare Agency who provided assistance to me, the amount of assistance granted me after the beginning of the first month of my SSI eligibility." On the same date, Moore signed another document entitled "Authorization for Reimbursement of Initial Supplemental Security Income Payment." By that document, Moore authorized the Social Security Administration "to send to the County Welfare Agency" either her initial SSI payment or her initial SSI post-eligibility payment. It also authorized the "Director of Welfare to deduct" from her initial SSI payment the amount she received from the local welfare agency beginning from the month she became eligible for SSI through the date when her monthly SSI benefits begin.
On June 14, 2007, Moore again signed a form with identical language authorizing the county and municipal welfare agencies to deduct from her initial SSI payment an amount equal to the benefits they paid to her for overlapping State and SSI benefit periods. On November 28, 2007, Moore signed a form with identical language as quoted above agreeing to repay to the county and municipal welfare agencies the benefits she received for any time period overlapping eligibility for SSI benefits.
Having signed the agreement and the authorization forms, each twice, Moore received a total of $3,374 from the State's Work First New Jersey/General Assistance program for the time period from April 2006 through January 2008.
In August 2008, the Social Security Administration determined that Moore was eligible to receive SSI benefits beginning from March 2006. Retroactive SSI benefits totaling $14,222.39 were due to be paid to her. On the basis of the two agreements and two authorizations signed by Moore in 2006 and 2007, the Atlantic County Board of Social Services made a claim to the Social Security Administration for reimbursement of $3,160.04 from the retroactive SSI benefits payable to Moore.*fn1
Relying on the authorizations signed by Moore, and on federal regulations, the Social Security Administration paid $3,160.04 to the Atlantic County Board of Social Services and the balance of Moore's retroactive SSI benefits to her.
Moore filed an administrative appeal, claiming that she never authorized the county welfare agency to be repaid from her SSI benefits and that there was no overlapping of her State and federal benefits. She claimed that the last month in which she received State welfare benefits was January 2008, and that she did not become eligible for SSI benefits until July or August 2008. In a written decision dated June 12, 2009, the Director of the Department of Human Services denied Moore's appeal, stating that she had received overlapping State and federal assistance benefits and that she had agreed to reimburse the amount she received under the State programs.
On appeal before us, Moore argues that, when she signed the documents described above, a social worker told her that she was only acknowledging that she had read the documents, and she did not intend to authorize repayment to the county welfare agency.
As proof of her contention, she argues that the documents did not include a check mark on alternative provisions for repayment of the benefits. She also claims she received only a one-time payment of $200 in New Jersey Work First/General Assistance benefits during November 2007, and that any reimbursement should be limited to that amount.
We apply a limited standard of review to the decision of an administrative agency such as the Department of Human Services. See Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co. v. N.J. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 101 N.J. 95, 103 (1985). We will reverse only if the decision is contrary to law or arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Brady v. Bd. of Rev., 152 N.J. 197, 210-11 (1997). "[I]f substantial credible evidence supports an agency's conclusion," we must defer to the agency's decision. Greenwood v. State Police Training Ctr., 127 N.J. 500, 513 (1992). In this case, we find no error in the final determination of the Department of Human Services.
Contrary to Moore's contentions, she received State welfare benefits beginning in 2006. She has not refuted the factual contention that her State welfare benefits totaled $3,370.04 from April 2006 through January 2008. Her argument that she did not become eligible for SSI benefits until July or August 2008 ignores the fact that her eligibility was made retroactive to March 2006. The notice from the Social Security Administration dated October 8, 2008, stated that Moore was entitled to retroactive SSI benefits of $14,422.39 for the period from March 2006 through October 2008. Those retroactive benefits overlapped the period for which she also received State welfare assistance.
As to Moore's contention that she did not agree in writing to repay the State welfare benefits but only acknowledged reading the documents she signed, her signatures on the four documents are presumptive evidence of her agreement to repay overlapping benefits. See Fortunel v. Martin, 114 N.J. Eq. 235, 241 (E. & A. 1933) (presumption that, absent fraud, misconduct, or overreaching, a party to a written contract "read, understood, and assented to its terms"); see also Rudbart v. N. Jersey Dist. Water Supply Comm'n, 127 N.J. 344, 353, cert. denied sub nom. First Fidelity Bank v. Rudbart, 506 U.S. 871, 113 S.Ct. 203, 121 L.Ed. 2d 145 (1992) (basic principle of contract law that a party's signature indicates agreement to the written terms of the document); Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors Inc., 32 N.J. 358, 386 (1960) (same). Furthermore, the absence of check marks on the alternatives provided in the authorization forms is not fatal to their enforceability. There is no dispute in this case regarding the type or basis of the SSI benefits from which the Atlantic County Board of Social Services sought reimbursement.
Under State regulations, the county welfare agency was required to obtain Moore's agreement to make repayments and her authorization for recovery of benefits paid in accordance with the forms she signed. N.J.A.C. 10:90-14.5(c). The signed authorizations operated as assignments of Moore's rights to the overlapping, retroactive SSI benefits as consideration for the welfare agency's granting of interim assistance while she was awaiting decision on her SSI eligibility. See In re Vazquez, 788 F.2d 130, 134 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 936, 107 S.Ct. 414, 93 L.Ed. 2d 365 (1986).
Federal and State law permitted the State agencies to recover the interim assistance benefits they paid. Moore was not entitled to collect both State and federal assistance benefits for the same time period.