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United States v. New Jersey

argued: July 16, 1987.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY; VIOLENT CRIMES COMPENSATION BOARD



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Newark, D.C. Civil No. 85-5725.

Sloviter and Stapleton, Circuit Judges and Shapiro, District Judge*fn*

Author: Stapleton

Opinion OF THE COURT

STAPLETON, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal, the United States argues that 38 U.S.C. § 629 ("Section 629") entitles it to compensation from New Jersey's Violent Crimes Compensation Board ("the Board") for medical care that the Veterans Administration ("the VA") provided to two veterans who were victims of violent crimes in New Jersey. We will reverse the district court's judgment in favor of the Board and remand for the entry of an appropriate declaratory judgment. We hold that Section 629 prohibits denial of a claim, made under a state victims' compensation statute, solely because the VA provided the medical care without cost to the crime victim. The administrators of such a state statute must honor such a claim if "the veteran (or the provider of the care or services) would be eligible to receive payment for such care or services . . . if the care or services had not been furnished by a department or agency of the United States." 38 U.S.C.A. § 629(a)(1) (West Supp. 1987).

I.

In May, 1982, Charles Watson was beaten on the head with a baseball bat in Newark, New Jersey. Watson, a veteran entitled to medical care by the VA without charge, was hospitalized at the VA Medical Center in East Orange, New Jersey. According to the VA, the cost for the treatment given to Watson was $8,123.

In March, 1985, Reginald Brewer, a resident of New Jersey, was mugged and thrown to the ground by three assailants as he walked home from work. He suffered a broken hip. Brewer, a veteran eligible for care by the VA without charge, was hospitalized at the VA Medical Center in East Orange. The VA states that the cost of Brewer's medical treatment was $10,225.

The VA filed timely claims with the Board for the cost of the services rendered to Watson and Brewer. In addition, Watson filed a claim with the Board for $1,230, the cost of a hearing aid he had purchased. Injuries from the May, 1982, beating led to the need for a hearing aid.

The Board rejected the claims made by the VA for the medical care of Watson and Brewer. The VA received two virtually identical letters from counsel for the Board. Each letter stated:

I have been advised by Kenneth W. Welch, Chairman, that the New Jersey Violent Crimes Compensation Board does not consider itself obligated to make payments to V.A. hospitals for treatment rendered to veterans who are crime victims.

The treatment rendered to veterans who are crime victims is without charge to the veteran and therefore does not constitute an out of pocket lawfully reimbursable expense pursuant to the requirements of N.J. Law, N.J.S.A. 52:4B-12 and N.J.S.A. 52:4B-19.

In the event that the issue requires litigation we will respond to the matter in greater detail at that time.

The position of the New Jersey Violent Crimes Compensation Board is in accordance with a substantial number of similarly constituted victim compensation programs throughout the country.

App. at 56, 83. The Board, after finding that Watson "was the innocent victim of a violent crime" and that "other sources" had paid $200 of Watson's hearing aid bill, awarded Watson $1,030. App. at 77. The Board noted that "[the] claimant was without medical insurance at the time of the incident." Id.

II.

New Jersey's Criminal Injuries Compensation Act ("the Compensation Act") authorizes the Board to award compensation to the victims of certain crimes committed in New Jersey. State penalty assessments, general state funds, and federal grants from the Crime Victims' Fund, see 42 U.S.C.A. § 10601 (West 1987 Pamphlet), contribute to the pool out of which awards are made. The Compensation Act provides:

The board may order the payment of compensation under this act for:

a. expenses actually and reasonably incurred as a result of the personal injury or death of the victim,

b. loss of earning power as a result of total or partial incapacity of such victim,

c. pecuniary loss to the dependents of the deceased victim, and

d. any other pecuniary loss resulting from the personal injury or death of the victim which the board determines to be reasonable.

N.J.S.A. 52:4B-12 (West 1986). In addition to other restrictions on awards, the act states:

No award shall be made on an application unless the applicant has incurred a minimum out-of-pocket loss of $100.00 or has lost at least two continuous weeks' earnings or support; except that the requirement of a minimum out-of-pocket loss shall not apply to any applicant 60 years of age or older or any applicant who is disabled as defined pursuant to the federal Social Security Act . . . . Out-of-pocket loss shall mean unreimbursed and unreimbursable expenses or indebtedness reasonably incurred for medical care or other services necessary as a result of the injury upon which such application is based.

N.J.S.A. 52:4B-18 (West 1986). Section 52:4B-19 directs that:

In determining the amount of compensation to be allowed by order, the board shall take into consideration amounts received or receivable from any other source or sources by the victim or his dependents as a result of the offense or occurrence giving rise to the application.

N.J.S.A. 52:4B-19 (West 1986).

The relevant federal law, Section ...


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