Court Rules New Jersey’s Budget Constraints Trump Disabled Adult’s Right To Payment Of Transport Costs

A New Jersey appeals court ruled that the state has no obligation to pay for transportation that would allow a 25-year-old man with autism to attend an adult day program because he is on the waiting list for a Medicaid waiver and a comparable program is available closer to his home. J.J. and L.J. on Behalf of C.J. v. New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities (N.J. Sup. Ct. , App. Div., 2011 WL 2341232, May 23, 2011) (Unpublished).

C.J., 25, has been diagnosed with autism and maladaptive disorder. From 1990 through 2007, C.J. participated in a special education program at the Eden Institute that was paid for by his school district. When C.J. aged out of the education program, the state Division of Developmental Disabilities offered to enroll him in an adult day program closer to home, but C.J.’s parents insisted that he remain at Eden.

The Division agreed to pay for C.J. to attend a vocational program at Eden, but it refused to pay for transportation to and from the program. The Division argued that it was not obligated to pay for C.J.’s transportation because C.J. was only on the waiting list for a Medicaid waiver program that could provide the necessary funding (the waiting list stretches back to 1998). The Division also refused to categorize the case as “contested” and denied C.J. an administrative hearing. After a final agency decision denying both the request for a hearing and the transportation funds, C.J.’s parents appealed to the Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division.

The court upheld the Division’s decisions. The court explained that the case is not “contested” because “C.J. is presently on the waiting list for the [waiver], and he is not entitled to receive [waiver] services until he is reached chronologically on the waiting list.” The court also ruled that the “fact that the Division has elected to use State funds for the program [at Eden] does not mean that the Division is also required to fund the cost of transportation to and from that program, particularly when the cost of transportation greatly exceeds the cost of the program itself.”

In balancing C.J.’s rights with the state’s budgetary constraints, the Court ruled as follows:

Appellants additionally argue that the Division is required by [regulations] to provide transportation to C.J. to and from the Eden program. However, the Division is only required to provide services “to the extent available.” …If an appropriate service is not available, the Division must provide “alternate service[.]” … The statutes governing the provision of services by the Division evince a recognition that “fiscal constraints may delay the provision of services.” [Citations Omitted]

The case is annexed here – J.J. and L.J. on Behalf of C.J. v. New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities