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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. S.D.E.

March 18, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FG-07-22-07.

Per curiam.



Submitted February 4, 2008

Before Judges Lintner, Sabatino, and Alvarez.

On July 25, 2006, following protective services litigation pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 to -8.73, spanning approximately two years and beginning with a July 2004 order placing immediate custody of T.E.L.E. with the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), a complaint seeking to terminate the parental rights of T.E.L.E.'s mother and father, S.D.E. and T.L., was filed.

On January 25, 2005, a family court judge ordered T.E.L.E. to be placed with D.W., his maternal great grandmother. Although S.D.E. was not permitted visitation at D.W.'s home, the order allowed D.W. to arrange for visitation outside the home. On June 17, 2005, an order was entered approving DYFS placing permanent Kinship Legal Guardianship with D.W. The order also provided that it would not be safe for T.E.L.E. to return to his mother's home.

S.D.E. did not appear for a case management conference on October 20, 2006, despite notice. She also failed to appear in court on February 14, 2007. Defaults were entered for her failure to appear for case management conferences on December 6, 2006, and February 28, 2007.*fn1

On March 19, 2006, S.D.E. and T.L. appeared at a case management conference, at which time T.L. voluntarily surrendered his parental rights. A judgment surrendering T.L.'s parental rights was filed. A case management order was also filed, scheduling a proof hearing for April 4, 2007. S.D.E. did not appear on April 4, and default was entered. The judge then conducted the proof hearing, taking testimony from two DYFS workers. He also reviewed the psychological reports, DYFS records, and the extensive court records and rendered his decision, terminating S.D.E.'s parental rights. A formal judgment was entered on the same date. S.D.E.'s motion to vacate the default judgment was heard and denied on May 2, 2007. This appeal followed. We now affirm.

We recite the facts necessary for disposition of this appeal. T.E.L.E. was born at University Hospital in Newark on July 20, 2004. S.D.E. was almost nineteen at the time of the child's birth. She had three prior pregnancies, none of which resulted in a birth. During S.D.E.'s childhood, DYFS investigated claims that S.D.E.'s mother, A.E., abused S.D.E. verbally, physically, and emotionally. Emotional abuse was substantiated. S.D.E. moved out of her mother's home at age six. She lived in foster and group homes until age fourteen. She dropped out of school and went on Social Security when she was fifteen.

DYFS was alerted on July 22, 2004, by hospital representatives that S.D.E. and her son were to be discharged. They reported that, during S.D.E.'s pregnancy, she had visited the hospital multiple times after being beaten and kicked in the stomach. DYFS was also informed that S.D.E. had been transferred to the Crisis Unit with a diagnosis of "Intermittent Explosive Disorder" after going into an "uncontrollable rage" after being told that she would not be able to see her newborn child. S.D.E.'s mother confirmed that there had been a history of domestic violence between S.D.E. and T.L. She also revealed that S.D.E. has not taken her two medications since she was fourteen. D.W. expressed concern for the safety of T.E.L.E. if placed in S.D.E.'s care. Although S.D.E. was discharged from the hospital on July 22, T.E.L.E. "was not discharged home to his mother due to her mental health issues."

On July 30, 2004, a Family Part judge issued an order pursuant to a Notice of Emergency Removal, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29 and 8.30, based upon S.D.E.'s diagnosed "Intermittent Explosive Disorder" and the allegations of domestic violence.

S.D.E. was examined by a psychiatrist, Dr. Ambrose O. Mgbako, on November 4, 2004. She told Mgbako that she was twice hospitalized as a child due to "temper tantrums and crying a lot." S.D.E. took various types of medication between ages six and fourteen, also recalled "get[ting] upset easily during this period." Mgbako determined that S.D.E. did not need psychiatric support.

On December 3, 2004, the DYFS caseworker noted that S.D.E. "[did] not have a place of her own to stay . . . [and was] not taking the prescribed medications that she needs to take."

S.D.E. contacted her DYFS caseworker on March 30, 2005, stating that she found an apartment in Irvington and needed financial assistance with rent and a security deposit. She later received letters on April 12 and 14, 2005, from the Newark Housing Authority, informing her that she had been assigned a housing unit.

S.D.E. tested positive for marijuana on December 16, 2004. She again tested positive for marijuana on June 19, 2005.

Dr. Charles S. Hasson, a psychologist, informed the DYFS caseworker on March 2, 2005, that he was terminating his treatment of S.D.E. because she "failed to show for four appointments with no attempt to call or explain" her absence. He diagnosed S.D.E. with a borderline personality disorder in which she overreacts to any perceived slights.

She is demanding, immature and has no insight into how she causes problems for herself. She requires long term psychiatric treatment with medication and also needs psychotherapy. Her anger control problem is just the tip of the iceberg. She is very unstable and would present a danger to any child left in her care. At a minimum, she needs an immediate psychiatric work-up with medication to stabilize her mood. [S.D.E.] has an explosive temperament and could react in a violent manner toward people she perceives as crossing her. I am not optimistic about her future. She is essentially satisfied with the person she is and only becomes upset when people and circumstances do not bend to her will.

S.D.E. also underwent a psychiatric evaluation on April 13, 2005, performed by Dr. Ronald W. Crampton. S.D.E. indicated to Crampton that she had multiple arrests for various infractions, including assault and terroristic threats. She also stated that "there may be current, unspecified, outstanding charges against her." S.D.E. told Crampton that she had a total of four pregnancies, which included "two miscarriages and one therapeutic abortion." Crampton noted that S.D.E. had previously taken medications, including Mellarill, Depakote, and Risperdal. S.D.E. expressed to Crampton a desire to become a daycare worker or nursing assistant. Crampton's observations of S.D.E. included "attempts to camouflage her underlying anger," mood fluctuation, limited insight into her situation, and poor judgment. S.D.E. was ...

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