On appeal from the State of New Jersey, Department of Children and Families, AHU #10-0551, NJS #10072949.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 1, 2011
Before Judges Parrillo and Espinosa.
Defendant V.A. appeals the final decision of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (Department) denying her application to expunge her name from the Division of Youth and Family Services' (Division) Central Registry of substantiated abuse findings. We affirm.
Following a contested fact-finding hearing in the Family Part at which V.A. was represented by counsel, on May 12, 2008, the court found that V.A. abused and neglected her seven-year old son, J.A., when she told him she was committing suicide because of his behavior and ingested an overdose of prescription medication in front of him, causing her to remain unconscious for eleven-and-one-half hours. Thereafter, on June 20, 2008, V.A. requested that the judge enter a "suspended judgment" pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.51(a)(1). V.A.'s ultimate goal in seeking such relief was to have her name removed from the Division's Central Registry, maintained pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11, because of the adverse effects on employment and other consequences of such inclusion. See N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. J.L., 410 N.J. Super. 159, 170 (App. Div. 2009).
The court granted entry of a suspended judgment even though V.A.'s application was moot at the time of the order because J.A. had been returned to V.A.'s care. See N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. R.M., 411 N.J. Super. 467, 480 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 203 N.J. 439 (2010). However, the court declined to order the abuse and neglect finding expunged from the Central Registry maintained by the Division, and suggested that any such remedy would have to be pursued administratively.
V.A. did not appeal the abuse and neglect finding and does not now contend any error in that ruling. Nor did she appeal the Family Part's denial of her expungement application. Instead, V.A. sought administrative review nearly two years later in a April 27, 2010 letter to the Department requesting a hearing "to have her name removed from the Central Registry." On May 19, 2010, the Department denied that request pursuant to N.J.A.C. 10:120A-1.2(f), as V.A. had already received a hearing on this matter and a finding had been issued in the Family Part.
This appeal follows in which V.A. argues that, upon successful completion of a suspended judgment, she is entitled to a hearing to determine if her name should be removed from the Central Registry and that the denial of such a hearing is "fundamentally unfair." We disagree with these contentions.
N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11 requires that the Division maintain all information collected in connection with investigations of abuse and neglect in a Central Registry. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a makes the information maintained in that registry confidential, and permits release of the information only under limited circumstances to certain entities with responsibility for the safety of very young or vulnerable populations.
If the Division, after investigation, determines that the referral is unfounded, then the information is expunged from the Division's records in accord with N.J.A.C. 10:129-6.2. See
N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.40a. If, on the other hand, the referral is substantiated, the defendant is entitled to a trial-type hearing in which the Division is required to prove that the child at issue has been abused or neglected. In re Allegations of Sexual Abuse at East Park High Sch., 314 N.J. Super. 149 (App. Div. 1998); N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.44; N.J.A.C. 10:129-1.2(f); N.J.A.C. 10:129-2.5; N.J.A.C. 10:129-4.3.
At the conclusion of the Title 9 hearing, a suspended judgment is one of six possible dispositions the court, in its discretion, may order. See N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.51(a). In R.M., supra, we determined that "the suspended judgment provision of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.51(a)(1) is generally applicable when a Family Part judge has held a dispositional hearing and is not prepared to enter an order returning the child to the parent or placing the child with the Division, but instead proposes to give the parent an opportunity to maintain the family unit based upon adherence to the particular remedial requirements established pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.52(a)." 411 N.J. Super. at 481-82. More significantly, for present ...