Here are a few examples of the thousands of cases handled by our attorneys every year. Names and other identifying information have been changed to protect client confidentiality.
Denial of Final Restraining Order Overturned on Appeal
Susan and her husband, both very religious, were married for a brief period. During her marriage, Susan was subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of her husband. He claimed that his religious beliefs permitted him to commit these abusive acts. He even produced a religious leader as a witness at the domestic violence hearing to support his claim. NNJLS represented Susan in a Final Restraining Order hearing, but the trial judge refused to grant a restraining order citing the defendant’s religious beliefs. NNJLS appealed the decision and was successful. The Appellate Court remanded the matter for immediate issuance of a Final Restraining Order, finding that the trial court erred in excusing the defendant from sexual assault based upon his religious beliefs. The Appellate Court also found that the trial court’s belief that there was no further need for contact between Susan and her husband was incorrect as Susan was pregnant at the time of the trial.
The decision of the Appellate Court will impact not only Susan, but also other victims of domestic abuse who are denied restraining orders simply because an abuser uses his religious beliefs as an excuse for his actions or the Court feels there is no need for future contact between the parties.
PUBLIC BENEFITS LAW:
Temporary Rental Assistance Approved After Family Loses Income
Magda was six months pregnant and suffering from extreme stress when she came to NNJLS’ office for legal assistance. Magda was married and living with her husband and two children, ages two and five. Magda and her family were facing eviction for non-payment of rent.
Magda’s husband had worked steadily but had recently lost his job due to the failing economy. Magda was a stay-at-home mother. Having exhausted the husband’s unemployment assistance, the family was forced to apply for public benefits (food stamps, TANF, and temporary rental assistance). Although the family was approved for food stamps and TANF benefits, they were denied temporary rental assistance after the caseworker at the county welfare agency determined that Magda and her husband had the “realistic capacity to plan in advance”.
In determining “realistic capacity to plan”, the law provides that the agency must look at each individual’s or family’s circumstances to determine if the recipient(s) had not only the time to plan to avoid the eviction, but also the resources and capability as well. In discussing the agency’s denial for “realistic capacity to plan”, the agency’s social worker stated that Magda should not have become pregnant again since her husband was unable to secure employment - clearly basing her decision not on the actual regulations, but her own personal judgment.
An attorney from NNJLS’ Benefits and Income Maintenance Unit represented Magda before the Office of Administrative Law and argued that the agency’s denial was not only incorrect but offensive. The agency agreed to provide the temporary rental assistance through a settlement agreement, relieving Magda and her growing family from the threat of becoming homeless.
Mother Wrongfully Sued for Hospital Bill When Child was Medicaid Recipient
Brandon suffers from sickle cell anemia. This disease causes acute, life-threatening attacks which block the flow of blood to various organs. As a result, Brandon is frequently hospitalized. His mother, Marcie, is Brandon’s primary caregiver.
Marcie took brandon to the hospital in June and July 2008. At that time, Marcie advised the employees of the hospital that Brandon has been covered by Medicaid since birth, and gave the hospital his Medicaid information. As the hospital is a Medicaid provider, it must by law accept Medicaid and patients with this health coverage. The services provided to Brandon during these hospitalizations involved emergency treatments for sickle cell anemia, services which are normally covered by Medicaid.
Medicaid providers must accept as “payment in full” the amount which the Medicaid program pays on a claim. Federal and state law governing Medicaid prohibits Medicaid providers from billing or suing a Medicaid recipient. Nonetheless, the hospital sued Marcie for the medical treatment provided to Brandon in the amount of $13,000, although the hospital had previously accepted Medicaid as payment for services provided to Brandon, as well as for services provided to him subsequent to the June-July hospitalization.
NNJLS’ staff attorney filed an Answer on behalf of Marcie and moved the Court for Summary Judgment. The attorney argued that, by suing a Marcie, the mother of a Medicaid recipient, the hospital violated federal and state law. The Court agreed with NNJLS, and granted Summary Judgment to Marcie, enforcing the Medicaid law and denying the hospital a judgment against her.
Disabled Senior Citizen Retains Home of 40 Years
Kathryn is 72 years old. Her sole monthly income consists of approximately $750.00 in Social Security Benefits, and she receives rental assistance through a local Housing Authority. However, the rent for her apartment, where she has lived for over 40 years, is over $900.00 per month. Based upon her income, she is required to pay $150 per month and the Rental Assistance program will pay the rest as long as her payments are current.
In July 2010, she was evaluated by her doctor and complained that she had become increasingly forgetful over the past year. Her doctor also observed that she had difficulty paying bills and handling money. The doctor confirmed that she had memory difficulty compatible with a form of Alzheimer’s and she was prescribed a course of medication which would allow her to continue to live independently.
In the meantime, due to her declining memory, Kathryn had inadvertently failed to complete the annual recertification process required by the Rent Assistance program. As a result, even though she continued to pay her portion of the rent, unknown to her the remainder of the rent was not being paid. In mid-September, her landlord filed a summons and complaint for eviction for nonpayment of rent against her. If evicted, within several weeks Kathryn would have had to vacate the home in which she resided for more than forty years. In addition, if she was evicted she would also lose her rent assistance subsidy.
Kathryn was referred to our office and our staff attorney made a request for a reasonable accommodation on Kathryn’s behalf to the local Rent assistance program. Pursuant to state and federal fair housing laws, the program must provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities when necessary to enable them to use and enjoy housing. Based on Kathryn’s disability NNJLS convinced the Rent assistance program to pay two months retroactive Housing Assistance Payments for Kathryn. Our attorney also applied for additional rental assistance from a local Foundation on her behalf. The Foundation paid an additional $750.00. As a result, Kathryn avoided eviction and was able to remain in her apartment. Just as importantly, she was able to preserve her Rent Assistance subsidy so that her rent would remain affordable.
Homeless Man is Offered Support to Find Housing
John owned a home in North Carolina until he lost his job and could no longer make the payments. After the home was taken in foreclosure and with nowhere else to go, John moved to New Jersey to be near his parents. Unfortunately, he was unable to reside with his parents because they live in senior housing which forbids anyone but overnight visitors. Rather than have his parents risk being evicted, John slept in his car outside his parents’ apartment.
Because he had no job and no income, John applied for General Assistance (welfare benefits for adults without children) and Emergency Assistance (welfare assistance to meet an emergent need; in this case homelessness). John was found eligible for the General Assistance but denied Emergency Assistance on the grounds that he caused his own homelessness.
John came to NNJLS and we requested a fair hearing on his behalf. At the hearing the Welfare department argued that he caused his own homelessness because he left North Carolina without arranging for a permanent place to stay. Our attorney argued that John’s actions in moving to New Jersey were appropriate and entirely reasonable under the circumstances. After hearing NNJLS’s arguments, the agency representative agreed to enter into a settlement which provided John with the Emergency Assistance he sought. John was ultimately able to obtain housing in a location close to his parents.
Senior Citizen Cleared of Erroneous Credit Card Debt
George is a 74-year-old man who contacted our office after he was sued for over $40,000 on a credit card debt. The company which filed the suit buys debt from credit card companies and then sues on those accounts. Such companies typically have no paper records or documentation that the debt in question is owed by the defendant, and rely on "data streams" sent to them by the original creditors containing account information. The debt buyers pay pennies on the dollar for these accounts because many of the accounts are not collectable - the account information is incorrect, the debtor has died, or the accounts have been paid or discharged in bankruptcy.
George denied the account he was being sued on was his. He said he had two credit accounts with another bank, but never had the account on which this suit was based. Further confirming George's position was the fact that the Complaint named him as “G. K.”, indicating the company who filed the suit didn't even know George's first name. Our office filed an Answer on George's behalf denying the debt sued on was his, and then sent the debt-buying company discovery requests which asked them to prove the debt was George's.
When the debt-buying company failed to respond, we filed a discovery Motion to dismiss their Complaint. They didn't respond to our Motion, and their Complaint was dismissed "without prejudice" as provided by the New Jersey Court Rules. When the debt-buying company still didn't provide discovery after 90 days, we filed a second discovery Motion to dismiss their Complaint, this time, with prejudice. The Court then entered an Order dismissing the debt buying company's Complaint with prejudice. As a result, no judgment was entered against George, the Court's records confirm the debt sued on was not his, and he avoided a debt of over $40,000. NNJLS continues to see many cases like this in which debt buyers go “fishing” for people with similar names to debtors in the hope they can get a judgment against them regardless of whether or not they have the right person.
Disabled Woman Resolves Identity Theft
Alyssa, a 28- year-old deaf woman was a victim of identity theft. An acquaintance of hers purchased a used vehicle from a car dealership using Alyssa’s personal information and had the purchase of the vehicle financed by the carmaker’s credit corporation. Alyssa discovered the theft when she received a notice of suspension of her driver’s license because of unpaid parking tickets for the car.
NNJLS agreed to represent Alyssa and convinced the credit corporation that the purchase-finance of the vehicle was fraudulent and that she should not be held responsible for the automobile loan. They also agreed to make sure that Alyssa’s credit report was corrected. In addition NNJLS’ staff attorney worked with the municipality and DMV to make sure that she was not held responsible for the parking tickets and that her driver’s license would not be suspended. Finally, we assisted Alyssa in placing a fraud alert on her credit report, in order to deter any future fraudulent activity. The client recently returned to our office to express the joy she feels at having this matter finally resolved.