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J.S v. Marsetta Lee and Mary Beth Wood

April 11, 2011

J.S., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MARSETTA LEE AND MARY BETH WOOD, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



On appeal from an interlocutory order of Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-783-10.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 25, 2011

Before Judges Wefing, Payne and Koblitz.

Defendants Deputy Attorney General Marsetta Lee (Director), director of the New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO), and Senior Deputy Attorney General (SDAG) Mary Beth Wood, counsel to the VCCO, were granted leave to appeal the trial court's order of July 23, 2010, allowing a civil rights lawsuit brought by J.S. to proceed against them in connection with the VCCO's consideration of J.S.'s claim for a victim compensation award. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we reverse.

J.S. sought an award from the VCCO based on the abuse inflicted by his adoptive father between 1991 and 2001. The father is currently incarcerated for sexually abusing him and his younger sibling. J.S. disclosed the abuse in 2006,*fn1 and two years later, on April 8, 2008, filed a claim with the VCCO. On June 30, 2008, the VCCO entered an award of $25,000 "for loss of support from offender."

On March 3, 2008, Governor Jon S. Corzine issued a reorganization plan, which transferred the Victims of Crime Compensation Agency (VCCA) from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Law and Public Safety and renamed the entity the VCCO. See Executive Reorganization Plan No. 001-2008, 40 N.J.R. 913(a) (Mar. 28, 2008).

Also, during the first part of 2008, the New Jersey Office of the Inspector General conducted a review of VCCA operations and internal controls, which also included a review of case files for the past five years. See Letter from Mary Jane Cooper, Inspector General of New Jersey, to Anne Milgram, Attorney General of New Jersey (July 15, 2008), available at http://www.state.nj.us/oig/pdf/lettertoagmilgram_victimsofcrime compensation.pdf. The Inspector General indicated that some past payments from the VCCA did not have sufficient documentation. Ibid.

The VCCO advised J.S. in an October 10, 2008 letter that it had reconsidered the earlier award and denied the claim. The VCCO indicated that J.S.'s "application contained inaccurate and misleading information," in that J.S. had disclosed the abuse in 2005, not 2006 as he claimed, and his application was therefore "untimely," in that it had not been filed within two years of disclosure. The VCCO also determined that J.S.'s sibling had received compensation (paid to their mother as the sibling was a minor). When J.S. disclosed the abuse he suffered, he was already living on his own, and the perpetrator was already incarcerated for abusing J.S.'s sibling.

J.S. appealed the VCCO's decision to deny him compensation to the VCCO Review Board (Board) on November 18, 2008. N.J.S.A. 52:4B-3.4. On October 29, 2009, the Board held a hearing at which SDAG Wood appeared on behalf of the VCCO. On November 19, 2009, the Board reversed the prior denial and awarded the original amount of $25,000 to J.S. On January 21, 2010, the VCCO issued an order to that effect.

Three days later, on January 25, 2010, J.S. filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs seeking an order requiring that defendants individually "process plaintiff's order of payment" and compensate J.S. for tortious interference with an economic advantage, intentional infliction of emotional distress and a violation of plaintiff's civil rights under state and federal law.

On January 28, 2010, the VCCO sent a check to J.S. at his former address. J.S.'s counsel notified the VCCO of J.S.'s current address on January 29, 2010. A second check was sent to J.S. on February 11, 2010. On February 16, 2010, the VCCO entered an additional order of payment for $3750, fifteen percent of the total award, for counsel fees.

J.S. claimed that SDAG Wood, acting under the Director's authority, did not provide to the Board members reviewing the October 10, 2008 denial the June 30, 2008 order granting an award until the hearing began. In his complaint, J.S. conceded that he had nevertheless received a "fair and just hearing" before the Board. J.S. also alleged ...


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