On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, Docket No. FN-01-62-09. Yvonne Smith Segars, Public Defender, attorney for appellant T.K. (Robert H. McGuigan, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 7, 2010 -- Decided Before Judges Parrillo and Yannotti.
Defendant T.K. appeals from an order entered by the Family Part which found that plaintiff Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that he abused or neglected his minor child, K.K. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
T.K. is the father of K.K., who was born to V.P. on August 1, 2008. At that time, V.P. also had custody of another child, A.M., whose father is E.M. Two days after K.K. was born, the hospital reported to the Division that V.P. had tested positive for marijuana at the time of the child's birth. The hospital also reported that V.P. had not obtained prenatal care while pregnant with K.K. The Division assigned a caseworker to investigate the report.
The caseworker interviewed V.P. and T.K. They both denied that they smoked marijuana, although V.P. said that she had been present in a room while others had done so. She agreed to undergo another drug test. T.K. acknowledged that previously he had been convicted of a weapons offense. V.P. and T.K. told the caseworker that they were living in a motel in West Atlantic City. The caseworker went to the motel and found that everything was in order.
On August 4, 2008, V.P. brought K.K. home from the hospital. The caseworker visited the motel where V.P. and K.K. were living. T.K. admitted that, in addition to the weapons offense, he had been arrested and charged with certain drug offenses, which were pending as of that date.
V.P. said that she and K.K. would remain with T.K. until a local agency found housing for her and the child. V.P. also indicated that A.M. had been staying with her paternal grandparents through the end of her pregnancy, and would remain with them until she found appropriate housing. According to the caseworker, the motel room appeared to be neat and clean, and there were adequate supplies for the baby.
On August 5, 2008, the caseworker visited A.M. at the home of her parental grandparents. The child appeared to be healthy and appropriately groomed. The next day, the hospital informed the caseworker that V.P.'s and K.K.'s drug tests had been negative. The hospital also told the caseworker that V.P. never tested positive and it had mistakenly referred the matter to the Division. In addition, the caseworker learned that V.P. had actually gone for one prenatal visit during her pregnancy with K.K. The Division advised V.P. and T.K. that the case would be closed.
Thereafter, the Division was informed that, in addition to the aforementioned weapons conviction and drug charges, T.K.'s criminal record included charges for unlawful possession of a weapon and disorderly conduct. In addition, the Division was told that V.P. had a criminal record that included charges of forgery and robbery.
On October 1, 2008, the Division reopened the file after it learned that the children had not been brought for medical check-ups with their respective doctors. The Division also learned that T.K. had tested positive for cocaine on September 5, 2008, and would be tested again. T.K.'s probation officer informed the Division that T.K. would be charged with a violation of probation if he again tested positive.
On October 2, 2008, the caseworker and two departmental security officers visited V.P.'s and T.K.'s motel room. The caseworker testified that, when she entered the room, it smelled of marijuana. T.K. and A.M. were in the room. The caseworker asked T.K. if there were any other adults present. T.K. replied that only he and V.P. were at home. He said that V.P. was taking a shower and K.K. was with her in the bathroom.
The caseworker testified that, immediately thereafter, two unknown adults emerged from the bathroom with K.K. The caseworker asked T.K. why the room smelled of marijuana. T.K. said that a neighbor next door may have been smoking marijuana, but the caseworker testified that she had not seen anyone outside the room smoking marijuana when she arrived at the motel. The caseworker ...