On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FN-09-179-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 22, 2012
Before Judges Espinosa and Guadagno.
Defendant mother S.A. (Susan)*fn2 appeals from the March 24, 2011 order entered following a fact-finding hearing that she abused or neglected her infant son S.A. (Steven) by leaving him alone and unsupervised at home. In a parallel criminal matter involving the same incident, Susan pled guilty to child abuse in the fourth degree. As the Title Nine*fn3 allegations and the criminal charges related to the same incident of abuse, we find that defendant is barred by collateral estoppel from challenging the findings of abuse or neglect and dismiss her appeal. We add only the following comments.
Susan gave birth to Steven on August 24, 2009. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) received three referrals in 2010 alleging Susan had left Steven alone. All were determined to be unfounded. The fourth referral came from the Jersey City Police Department on September 27, 2010.
Steven's maternal grandmother, M.A. (Maxine) reported that she received a call that Susan left her apartment without Steven and the caller suspected that Steven was alone in the home. Maxine called her mother, Steven's maternal great-grandmother D.H. (Doris), and asked her to go and check on Steven. Doris went to Susan's apartment and found the front door open and Steven alone and crying. The police responded and observed Steven, who was thirteen months old at the time, wearing soiled pants and no shirt. The child was taken to the hospital for examination and Susan was later arrested.
DYFS executed a Dodd removal*fn4 and Steven was temporarily placed in a resource home. At a hearing on the Division's order to show cause, Maxine was awarded custody of Steven.
On January 12, 2011, a grand jury returned an indictment against Susan charging her with endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a (count one), and child abuse, N.J.S.A. 9:6-1 & 9:6-3 (count two).
On March, 22, 2011, Susan pled guilty to count two, admitting that on September 27, 2010, she had care and responsibility for Steven and left him alone for an extensive period of time.
On March 24, 2011, a fact-finding hearing was held on the Title Nine matter. Neither the mother nor her counsel informed the court of her guilty plea two days earlier and the court entered a finding of abuse and neglect based on the testimony of two DYFS caseworkers.
After the finding was entered, the mother requested that the Title Nine matter be dismissed as she did not want custody of her son.
"Collateral estoppel is that branch of the broader law of res judicata which bars relitigation of any issue which was actually determined in a prior action, generally between the same parties, involving a different claim or cause of action." State v. Gonzalez, 75 N.J. 181, 186 (1977). There are five identified conditions precedent to the application of the collateral estoppel doctrine ...