On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the Department of Human Services, OAL Docket No. HDY0991-04, AHU Case No. 03-154.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Kestin and Graves.
On December 23, 1998, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) notified appellant, O.D., by letter that the Division had investigated a report that O.D. physically abused her ten-year-old daughter D.D. (fictitiously, Diane), on November 20, 1998. The letter further advised the "Division's investigation determined that child abuse was substantiated," and, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11, O.D.'s name and identifying information had been placed in the Central Registry of persons who have committed acts of child abuse or neglect. O.D. disputed the Division's determination, and the matter was ultimately transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law as a contested case. Following a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded that O.D. had not committed an act of child abuse under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21, and her name should not have been placed in the Central Registry. However, the final decision by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Office of Children's Services, concluded that O.D.'s name would remain "in the Central Registry for substantiated child abuse." We reverse.
For reasons that are not set forth in the record, the administrative hearing before the ALJ did not take place until June 27, 2005----more than six years after the incident had occurred. At the hearing, Officer D'Amico, a member of the Neptune Township Police Department, testified that on November 20, 1998, at approximately 1:31 p.m., he responded to a 9-1-1 call from "a hysterical female" who claimed "she was being beaten by her mother." Upon arriving at O.D.'s residence, D'Amico spoke with Diane, who was crying and upset. Diane told him her mother hit her first with a plastic clothes hanger and then with an extension cord after her mother found her "sneaking through" her mother's pocketbook. Officer D'Amico observed welts on Diane's "left upper arm, which were the result of being struck by one of the objects," but he did not observe any serious injuries:
THE COURT: Do you recall anything about the child requiring any medical attention?
THE WITNESS: She required no medical attention.
THE COURT: Was the skin broken?
THE WITNESS: No, not at all.
BY MS. CASSAR [ATTORNEY FOR DYFS]:
Q: In your report, you indicate that the victim advised that her mother beat her on the legs, arms, chest and head area. You've testified to observing welt markings on the left arm. Okay. Did you observe any markings on the legs, . . . chest and head area?
When Diane, who was seventeen years old at the time of the hearing, was asked about the "marks" on her arm, she testified "[t]here never were any scars. I did have, I think, one or two welts on my arm, but it went down that day." According to Diane, her mother usually punished her by telling her she could not do the things she liked to do "like go outside and stuff like that." Diane also explained "just talking" with her mother was usually "enough" because when she did something wrong, she knew she hurt her mother as well as herself. She also recognized stealing "can grow to be a problem as you get older. If your parents see that as no big deal when you're little, then, maybe when you get older, you'll see it as no big deal. So, that is a problem."
When Diane was asked if there was anything she wanted to "say about that day," she testified:
I regret ever calling the police, because . . . I feel that I was being dramatic about it, because it wasn't really that serious of a deal to me. When you do something wrong, I think that if your parents love you, they'll discipline you for it, and I think my mom loves me a lot. So, when you do something wrong, you get disciplined for it. So, I got disciplined for it, just as if I would go into a store and steal something, I would get arrested or something. ...