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In re Finding of Child Abuse/Neglect Against G.S.

August 17, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF A FINDING OF CHILD ABUSE/NEGLECT AGAINST G.S.


On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the State of New Jersey, Department of Children and Families, No. 07-910.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 4, 2010

Before Judges Wefing, Messano and LeWinn.

G.S. appeals from the substantiated finding of child abuse entered against him by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and the resultant inclusion of his name on the child abuse registry, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11. G.S. seeks our remand of the matter to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) so that he may administratively challenge the finding. He raises the following points on appeal:

POINT 1

THE GUILTY PLEA, DEFERRAL, AND DISMISSAL OF THE JUVENILE COMPLAINT IN THE FAMILY COURT CANNOT BE USED TO DEFEAT THE JUVENILE'S RIGHT TO AN ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING TO CONTEST THE DCF'S FINDING OF CHILD ABUSE/NEGLECT.

POINT 2

INCLUSION IN THE DCF CHILD ABUSE CENTRAL REGISTRY IMPLICATES A SUBSTANTIAL PROPERTY INTEREST AND G.S. IS ENTITLED TO AN ADJUDICATORY HEARING TO CONTEST THE CHILD ABUSE/NEGLECT DETERMINATION.

We have considered these arguments in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.

The facts and procedural history are not in dispute. On March 30, 2007, DCF received a report that G.S., then sixteen-years old, had "fondl[ed]/touch[ed]" A.D., then five-years old. On July 23, after conducting an investigation, the extent of which is undisclosed by the record, DCF sent G.S. notification that the complaint "was substantiated," and advised him of his right to an administrative hearing. On August 9, G.S. requested a hearing through his attorney.

On September 13, A.D.'s mother signed a juvenile complaint charging G.S. with second-degree sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b), and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a). The complaint alleged that "on or about" May 1, 2006, G.S. had "contact with the genital area of A.D. with his finger." The assault allegedly occurred while G.S. was baby-sitting the child. G.S. was arrested.*fn1

On January 24, 2008, the prosecutor amended the complaint to charge a single count of lewdness, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-4(b)(1), a fourth-degree crime if committed by an adult, and G.S. admitted facts sufficient to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Although we have not been provided with the transcript from that hearing, counsel for G.S. advised us at oral argument that the factual basis provided clearly indicated that G.S.'s conduct occurred in the presence of A.D. G.S. was placed on probation for one year, successfully completed that sentence, and moved for "deferred disposition and dismissal" on January 23, 2009. See N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b)(1). The complaint was dismissed on June 1.

In the interim, on March 10, DCF responded to G.S.'s request for an administrative hearing.*fn2 Among other things, DCF asked G.S. to "advise . . . if there [wa]s another court reviewing a matter related to this," and further advised G.S. that DCF would "review [the] request for a[] . . . hearing to determine if [he was] eligible." G.S. apparently did not advise DCF of the juvenile court proceedings.

On April 30, DCF confirmed by phone with an investigator at the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office that G.S. "pled guilty to [l]ewdness in . . . the . . . Family Court . . . ." On the same day, DCF advised G.S. that it was denying his request for an administrative hearing, stating, "Since you received due process in the criminal justice system concerning the sexual abuse allegation, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 10:120A-1.2(e) [sic], you are not entitled to any further due process in relation to this matter."*fn3 This appeal followed.

In his first point, G.S. argues that DCF "misinterpret[ed] the legal significance of the juvenile proceedings . . . when [it] denied him his right to an administrative hearing"; that "DCF cannot use for substantive collateral purposes a dismissed adjudication of juvenile delinquency"; and that "DCF had no right to receive the juvenile records in this case."*fn4 We consider the last argument first.

The records of juvenile delinquency proceedings in the Family Part are subject to limited disclosure by statute. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60(a) provides for disclosure in certain circumstances, and to certain individuals and agencies:

a. Social, medical, psychological, legal and other records of the court and probation division, and records of law enforcement agencies, pertaining to juveniles charged as a delinquent or found to be part of a juvenile-family crisis, shall be strictly safeguarded ...


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