May 17, 2011
STEVEN JOHNSON, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On Appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. DC-5952-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 9, 2011
Before Judges C.L. Miniman and LeWinn.
Plaintiff J.A. appeals from the dismissal of his Special Civil Part complaint in which he sought $592.82 as damages for deliberate destruction or loss of his property by employees of the Special Treatment Unit to which plaintiff has been civilly committed. Defendant Steven Johnson is employed by the Department of Corrections (DOC) as an Assistant Superintendent responsible for both the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center and the Special Treatment Unit.
Plaintiff filed multiple property claims forms with the DOC, not all of which have been completely evaluated. However, some of the property claimed to have been lost had actually been stored by the DOC due to plaintiff's placement on Modified Activities Programming. Those boxes have since been returned. With respect to the remaining property, the DOC has asked plaintiff to submit revised claim forms after going through the property that was returned to him.
In the meantime, plaintiff filed his small-claims complaint. On April 12, 2010, defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. That motion was granted by the Special Civil Part judge on May 14, 2010, leading to this appeal.
It is clear that plaintiff's complaint is based upon allegations of administrative action. As such, he must prosecute his claims before the DOC until he secures a final decision from it. See K. Hovnanian Cos. of N. Cent. Jersey, Inc. v. N.J. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 379 N.J. Super. 1, 8 (App. Div.) ("Exhaustion of administrative remedies before resort to the courts is a firmly embedded judicial principle. . . . This principle requires exhausting available procedures, that is, pursuing them to their appropriate conclusion and, correlatively . . . awaiting their final outcome before seeking judicial intervention." (internal quotation marks omitted)), certif. denied, 185 N.J. 390 (2005).
Once the DOC has taken final agency action, plaintiff has a right to appeal directly to the Appellate Division as we alone "review final decisions or actions of any state administrative agency or officer." R. 2:2-3(a)(2). Our jurisdiction over such appeals is exclusive. Mutschler v. N.J. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 337 N.J. Super. 1, 9 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 168 N.J. 292 (2001); Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 296 N.J. Super. 437, 459-60 (App. Div. 1997), aff'd and modified on other grounds, 154 N.J. 19 (1998); Pascucci v. Vagott, 71 N.J. 40, 52 (1976). The Special Civil Part, therefore, had no jurisdiction over the dispute between plaintiff and the DOC respecting his allegedly damaged and lost property. Thus, plaintiff's complaint was properly dismissed by the Special Civil Part.
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