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In the Matter of J.E.

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


December 12, 2011

IN THE MATTER OF J.E.

On appeal from the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, Docket No. 1189271.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 18, 2011

Before Judges Fuentes and Nugent.

Appellant J.E. appeals from the final decision of the New Jersey Division of Human Services (DHS), Department of Family Development (DFD), terminating her participation in the New Jersey Cares for Kids Program (NJCK), and ordering her to repay approximately $30,000, representing the value of the services appellant received during the time appellant was deemed eligible. We affirm.

NJCK is a "child care voucher program funded primarily by the Child Care and Development Fund." N.J.A.C. 10:15-1.2. Operating in concert with At-Risk Child Care, Child Care Development Block Grant, and Child Protective Services, NJCK provides eligible families "with necessary child care services." N.J.A.C. 10:15-5.1.

Appellant submitted her initial application for NJCK services to the North Jersey Child Care Resources and Referral Agency of Passaic County on May 19, 2006. She stated that she was the sole parent and only adult in the household, and that her two children resided with her. She repeated these facts in subsequent renewal applications in 2007 through 2009.

Some time after appellant submitted her 2009 renewal application, the Passaic County agency learned that appellant was married, and that she had not included her spouse on her original 2006 application for services. The agency sent appellant a letter dated June 23, 2009, requesting documentation of appellant's marital status and updated financial information concerning her husband's income. The agency also sent appellant a separate document denoted a "10-day adverse action notice," informing her that the subsidy would be terminated if the information requested was not received by July 2, 2009.

Appellant did not respond and her services were terminated on July 3, 2009.

By letter dated July 10, 2009, appellant challenged the termination of services and requested an administrative review of her case before the DFD. In this letter, appellant admitted that she was married throughout the time she received services, but did not disclose it because her husband was unemployed and they had been "facing some personal difficulties as a couple. Because of this [she] couldn't count on his income[, e]ven though, [they] (as parents), always agree to fill in [sic] [their] taxes together." Appellant submitted the joint federal tax returns filed by her and her husband for 2007 and 2008, and pay stubs for herself and her husband. She did not submit her marriage certificate.

The Director of the DFD conducted an administrative review hearing pursuant to N.J.A.C. 10:90-9.8 in which she reviewed the documents submitted by appellant and the agency. The Director rejected appellant's application for reinstatement. The Director found that "the client failed to submit a copy of her marriage certificate and her 2007 IRS transcript to the agency by their [sic] requested due date."

In this appeal, appellant does not dispute the evidence against her nor challenge the substantive propriety of her termination. She argues, instead, that the agency's strict enforcement of the deadline established by the "10-day adverse action notice" makes the decision to terminate her from the program arbitrary and unreasonable. We disagree.

N.J.A.C. 10:15-6.15(c) delineates the content and establishes the time frame for compliance with the so-called "10-day adverse action notice":

The DFD contracted child care center shall mail or hand deliver a written notice regarding denial, reduction, suspension or termination of services to the parent/applicant who is receiving service at least 10 calendar days prior to such action taken by the agency. Services shall be terminated only after the parent/applicant has been sent or handed the written notice. The notice shall include:

1. A statement of the decision or proposed action and the effective date;

2. A full statement of the reasons for the decision or proposed action, stated clearly;

3. A statement, if applicable, indicating the amount of any co-payments that are due; and

4. A statement explaining that the parent/applicant has the right to request an administrative review.

The record shows that the agency complied with this regulation in all respects. Our scope of review of decisions of State administrative agencies is limited. Appellant was given the time established by the regulation to provide the documentation requested. She failed to do so without explanation.

Our Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed our standard of review in appeals challenging the decision of a State agency.

In order to reverse an agency's judgment, an appellate court must find the agency's decision to be arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or [] not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole . . . .

In determining whether agency action is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, a reviewing court must examine:

(1) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies, that is, did the agency follow the law; (2) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and (3) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors.

A reviewing court may not substitute its own judgment for the agency's, even though the court might have reached a different result. [In re Stallworth, 208 N.J. 182, 194 (2011) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).]

Mindful of this standard, we discern no legal basis to interfere with the decision of the DFD.

Affirmed.

20111212

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