On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition No. 2009-23752.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sabatino and Alvarez.
This workers' compensation action arises from injuries sustained by petitioner Helen Williamson when she fell during a foster parent training session presented by respondent Crossroads Programs, Inc., ("Crossroads"). Crossroads filed a motion to dismiss her claim and the compensation judge heard testimony adduced by both parties. Based on those proofs, the judge found that petitioner was not an employee of Crossroads for workers' compensation benefit purposes. Crossroads' motion was therefore granted and petitioner's claim was dismissed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The facts and procedural events relevant to our analysis are summarized as follows.
According to Crossroads' mission statement, the organization "empower[s] youth who are homeless, abandoned, abused, or at-risk to lead healthy, productive lives." To advance that mission, Crossroads contracts with the State to run the Community Care for Kids Therapeutic Foster Care Program. The primary purpose of the therapeutic foster care program is to integrate youths into a family-like setting that promotes "normalized" adolescence.
On October 21, 2008, Crossroads presented a training seminar for licensed foster care providers at the JFK Community Center in Willingboro. Petitioner, a licensed foster care provider, arrived at the seminar. As she ascended the steps to the meeting location, she fell, shattering her left patella and injuring her lower back.
Eleven months later, in September 2009, petitioner filed a workers' compensation claim, contending that her injuries were sustained in an accident at the JFK Community Center, arising out of her alleged employment with Crossroads. Crossroads filed an answer denying the existence of an employment relationship with petitioner.
Crossroads filed a motion to dismiss petitioner's claim. On April 21, 2010, Hon. William Lake, J.W.C., heard testimony from petitioner, as well as testimony from two of Crossroads' employees, Cheryl Conway and Tia Sanders.
Petitioner, a former schoolteacher, testified that she has been a foster parent for approximately eight or ten years. She estimated that she has been a foster parent associated with Crossroads for approximately six years. At the time of her accident in 2008, petitioner had one foster child in her care, a thirteen-year-old daughter. She also indicated that she has an adult daughter who attends school in Georgia.
Petitioner testified that, as a foster parent, she was required to attend the meetings or trainings that were held monthly by Crossroads. She further testified that she was required to get approval from Crossroads for her foster child to attend school trips, overnight trips, and so on. Petitioner explained that each child has a treatment plan that dictates the amount of community time the child is allowed, the child's curfew, and the child's bedtime. She indicated that she did not have the control of the child's medical appointments, e.g., choosing the doctor or the location, although she was sometimes responsible for scheduling.
Petitioner testified that she received $75 per day from Crossroads to defray the extra costs she incurred by having the child in her home. She confirmed that the payments included reimbursement for $100 in clothing expenses and $100 in recreational expenses per month, which included an allowance for the child. Petitioner testified that it was her understanding that "if the child was taken care of and there was anything left over, that was [her] money and [she could] use it for whatever [she] wanted." She asserted that she had extra money left over every month. Petitioner further indicated that, although she receives a state retirement pension and Social Security disability, she substantially relies on the money from Crossroads for her living expenses.
Cheryl Conway, the Chief Executive Officer of Crossroads, confirmed in her testimony that Crossroads is a private, nonprofit organization that contracts with the State to place children with foster parents. Conway explained that Crossroads selects which foster parent to place each child with, although Crossroads does not have the right to remove the child ...