On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FN-11-77-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lihotz and St. John.
In this appeal, we consider whether the trial court correctly found that defendant T.T.'s conduct with regard to her daughter, C.T., constituted abuse and neglect under Title Nine, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 to -8.73.*fn1 The Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) commenced this action, claiming C.T. was an abused or neglected child within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c), when subjected to corporal punishment while residing at defendant's home. In early 2008, when the events in question occurred, C.T. was sixteen years old. At the conclusion of a factfinding hearing, the Family Part judge found C.T. was abused and neglected. We conclude that the court's findings are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record and affirm.
Defendant T.T. is the mother of ten children, and at the time of the events giving rise to this appeal, T.T. was living with eight of them. None of the children's fathers reside with T.T. On January 11, 2010, the Division received a referral from C.T.'s father, E.Q., who alleged that T.T. had physically abused their daughter earlier that day. Soon after the Division received the referral, it sent two investigators to the home of T.T.'s relative, where several of the children were available for questioning.
Division caseworkers first interviewed M.H., then ten years old. M.H.
stated that morning she saw C.T. pull T.T.'s hair and hit her with a
soda can. T.T. responded by fighting with C.T., hitting her and
pulling her hair. C.T.'s sister, fourteen-year-old Tina,*fn2
also started fighting with C.T. and then Tina went to the
kitchen and grabbed a knife. At that point, T.T. separated the two
girls and the fight ended.
Tina was interviewed. She stated that she and her siblings were late for school and T.T. asked C.T. to help her locate the phone number of the school. When C.T. was "taking too long" to find the number, T.T. smacked C.T. on the arm. In response, C.T. hit her mother on the head with a soda can. T.T. slapped C.T. in the face, and then Tina admitted she started hitting C.T. as well, and then went to get a knife from the kitchen. Once Tina did, T.T. jumped between her two daughters.
An interview with M.T., age seven, resulted in a similar recounting of the events, but she added that C.T. initially pulled T.T.'s hair and that T.T. responded by pulling C.T.'s hair as well. The last child interviewed was five-year-old T.L., who stated that T.T. was "stomping on [C.T.'s] head" and pulling her hair after C.T. hit T.T. on the head with a can.
T.T. was interviewed and stated that after a screaming match erupted between her and C.T., she pushed C.T. against the wall "to try to quiet her down." Afterwards, she smacked C.T. on the arm and "yanked her head really hard." She stated that it was C.T. who went into the kitchen to get a knife in order to stab Tina. At that point, Tina tried to hit C.T. with a vacuum cleaner. C.T. then called the police, however, they never responded to the house. After the fighting ended, T.T. stated that in an effort to calm C.T. down, she drove C.T. to her maternal grandmother's house. On the way, C.T. said she was going to take anti-depression pills but T.T. stuck her fingers down C.T.'s throat to make sure she did not swallow any. When they arrived at the grandmother's house, she was not at home, so they waited in the car. When C.T.'s grandmother and great-grandmother arrived, the parties went into the house. A physical altercation then erupted between T.T. and the great-grandmother. During the melee, C.T.'s head was pushed against the wall. At that point, T.T. stated that she and C.T. left the house.
T.T. said she is enrolled in a mental health program at Great Trenton Behavioral Health and that she attends counseling once a week for her bi-polar disorder. T.T. also reported that she does not take her anti-depression medication everyday. When asked how she felt, T.T. stated that she felt depressed and sad because she was pregnant again and was being evicted.
After the interviews, the caseworkers noted their observations about the conditions of T.T.'s house. They noted that there was adequate food in the house and that the sleeping arrangements were also sufficient. However, the toddlers were observed to not be well groomed, their hair had not been combed, their clothes were dirty, and they had runny noses and coughs.
The caseworkers then went to the police station to meet C.T. and her father, who sought to press charges against T.T.
C.T. stated that during the previous night, her mother smacked her in the face because C.T. was not using the bathroom fast enough. When she awoke the next morning, C.T. stated the house was in "chaos" and that T.T. was yelling at her because Tina had told T.T. "lies" that C.T. had been calling her father's new girlfriend, "mom." C.T. stated that T.T. smacked her in the face, grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to the floor, and then kicked her in the head and face. C.T. stated that Tina pulled a knife on her, and then T.T. broke up the fight, at which point C.T. called the police. When T.T. started driving C.T. to her grandmother's house, C.T. tried calling her father, but T.T. started "smothering her" and tried to bang her head against the car window. C.T. stated that when she threatened to swallow the anti-depression pills, T.T. started choking her to prevent her from ingesting them. C.T. told the workers that she too suffered from bi-polar disorder and depression. Following the interview, C.T. went to her father's house, where she has since resided.
The caseworkers observed the following marks on C.T.'s body: a scratch above her left eye which appeared red; several scratches on her right eye; a swollen right eye; a scratch on her right forearm; bruises on her knuckles and a bruise on her wrist.
The Division executed an emergency removal of six of T.T.'s children at 10:30 p.m. on the evening of January 11, 2010. The Division filed its verified complaint and order to show cause on January 13, alleging abuse and neglect stemming from the incident on January 11, and from T.T.'s attempted suicide reported on December 5, 2009. The complaint named T.T. and three men who fathered several of the children removed from T.T.'s custody.
On March 26, 2010, Judge William Anklowitz held a factfinding hearing on the charges of abuse and neglect. The Division called Ms. Latia Williams, one of the caseworkers who responded to the referral and interviewed T.T. and her children. She stated that T.T. indicated that she was depressed and sad because she was pregnant and losing her home. Ms. Williams further testified that T.T. had admitted getting into a "screaming match" with C.T. and that "she pushed [C.T.] against a wall and also smacked her on the arm and banged her, kind of like pulled her head really hard, yanked her head really hard." She also noted C.T. stated that T.T. smacked her in the arm and face and that "she dragged ...