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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.P.

October 19, 2010


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, No. FN-11-15-09.

Per curiam.



Argued September 21, 2010

Before Judges Wefing, Payne and Koblitz.

Defendant, L.P., appeals from a trial court order following a contested hearing, finding that she committed an act of abuse and neglect with respect to her daughter, M.P. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.

L.P. and her husband, S.P., were divorced in 2004. During the course of their marriage, they had two daughters. M.P., now sixteen years of age, is the younger. Her older sister, S.P., was not the subject of the proceedings below and has since attained the age of eighteen.

L.P. first came to the attention of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("the Division") in August 2007. On August 17, 2007, she went to the East Windsor Police Department to report that her boyfriend had used her ATM card without her permission. Detective Jeffrey Dorrian interviewed L.P.; during the course of that interview, she told him that her boyfriend had physically assaulted her and that he ceased only when M.P. had walked into the room. Detective Dorrian noted that L.P.'s fingertips were "charred" and "black in color, a little bit yellowish." He knew from his training and experience that often indicated use of crack cocaine. He raised the subject with L.P., and she denied any substance abuse.

Detective Dorrian later interviewed M.P. and L.P.'s boyfriend. Based on the information he gathered, he again spoke to L.P. on August 23, 2007, and told her he believed that the assault had arisen out of a dispute about crack cocaine. L.P. at first agreed and then said she did not wish to talk to him any further. She left the room and then returned, saying she wanted to talk with him but with her mother present. He agreed; according to the detective, she admitted in that conversation being addicted to crack cocaine and spending large sums of money to satisfy her addiction. The conversation was recorded on a DVD. Detective Dorrian told L.P. that he was going to notify the Division of the situation.

Some days thereafter, a Division case worker came to L.P.'s home to investigate. She testified that the home was in a "deplorable condition", with clothes and boxes strewn about, to the extent that it was even difficult to find a clear path to walk. The kitchen was filled with dirty dishes. She did not, however, consider it to be dangerous or hazardous. She spoke to M.P., who appeared healthy but did admit that she was embarrassed by the condition of the house and would not bring any friends over to visit. L.P. attributed the condition of the house to her recent bout with breast cancer; although financially able to do so, she said she was unwilling to hire anyone to assist her in cleaning the house. The case worker asked her to submit to a substance abuse evaluation, and L.P. agreed.

In fact, however, L.P. failed to keep a number of appointments that were scheduled for this evaluation. She did not submit to a drug test until July 2008, almost a year later. The Division attached to its complaint the report of this test, which was positive for cocaine.

The Division received another referral with respect to L.P. in December 2007, when it received an anonymous telephone call from an individual who stated that L.P. had left M.P. alone in a car for nearly a half hour while L.P. consumed drugs with her boyfriend in a motel room. The Division's case worker met with M.P. the following day. M.P. related that her mother had driven her the previous day to a motel where L.P.'s boyfriend was staying, saying she had to use the bathroom. She said L.P. entered the motel room and left M.P. in the car. After about twenty minutes, M.P. became nervous and called her father, who told her to lock the car doors and call her mother. L.P. did not answer her daughter's telephone call but emerged from the motel room about ten minutes later.

The case worker also spoke to L.P. about the incident.

L.P. said she was driving and went to the motel because she had to use the bathroom. She also said she wanted to ask her friend to take over the driving because it was snowing and she did not like driving in the snow. She ...

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