On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FN-15-197-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 11, 2012 -
Before Judges Reisner and Yannotti.
In this Title Nine case, N.J.S.A. 9:6-1 to -8.73, defendants E.A. and
K.A. appeal from a June 14, 2011 fact-finding order determining that
they abused and neglected two children, L.A. and R.A.*fn1
The appeals were previously consolidated for the purposes of
filing transcripts and respondents' briefs. We have also consolidated
the appeals for purposes of this opinion. For the reasons that follow,
we affirm the June 14, 2011 order as to both defendants.
E.A. was the children's adoptive parent, and K.A. is E.A.'s biological adult daughter.*fn2 Both women were accused of abusing and neglecting L.A., who was then eleven years old, and R.A., who was then nine years old. The case began on June 14, 2010, when L.A. told a teacher's aide assigned to his special education class that he could not do sit-ups because he had "scratches" on his back. He lifted up his shirt to show the aide, and she observed several "severe marks on his back." The aide testified that she was "alarmed" and asked the classroom teacher to look at the child's back. The teacher sent L.A. to the school nurse, who called the principal.
The principal, Dr. Michael Raymond, testified that when he arrived at the nurse's office, he also looked at L.A.'s back and observed several "open marks" more than three inches long. The marks, which he described as painful and unusual, were: kind of open, so red, like an open wound.
It was reddish with some blue, blue on the edges. . . . I thought it must have been painful. . . . It was . . . in a weird spot . . . I have not seen any injuries . . . with kids on the playground . . . where an injury occurred there.
Because of his observations, Dr. Raymond called the Division of Youth and Family Services*fn3 (Division) and the local police.
When Officer Seda arrived, Dr. Raymond asked L.A. to explain what had happened to him. The child responded that his mother had given him "a whooping" with "one of the wands or a stick from a . . . window blind." L.A. said that the beating was punishment for "wrestling or fighting or playing around" with his brother. Dr. Raymond added that L.A. stated that his sister was "one of the ones responsible for hitting him too." Dr. Raymond noted that the child appeared to be physically "uncomfortable" and unable to lean his back on the chair in which he was sitting. On cross-examination, Dr. Raymond admitted that he did not make a written report of his observations and was testifying solely from his memory of the events.
The school nurse, Lisa Washington, testified to her observations on June 14, 2010. L.A. told her that his "mom" had "hit him with . . . cords" as punishment after he and his brother were fighting and accidentally "broke a door in the house." When the child lifted his shirt, Washington observed "marks" in the form of "reddish-purple" lines on his back, and one or two similar marks on his arm. L.A. told her the beating occurred on "Saturday."
Based on her extensive experience in treating children, Washington did not believe "it was an injury he would have been able to sustain on his own because of the location." She "had no reason to doubt" that the child was telling her the truth about what happened. Washington made a contemporaneous report of the incident. According to her report, L.A. told her he also had a bruise on his right thigh. However, Washington testified that she did not believe it was appropriate for her to ask the child to undress in her office.
Officer Ralph Seda, of the Jackson Township Police Department, testified that he was present in Dr. Raymond's office when the principal asked L.A. to describe what had happened to him. According to Officer Seda, L.A. stated that he and his brother had broken a door in their house and, as punishment, his sister [K.A.] had beaten him with "a curtain stick" of the type used to "open and close blinds." L.A. stated that his mother was in the shower when the incident occurred.
L.A. lifted his shirt and showed Officer Seda "a laceration approximately six inches long by a quarter inch" on his back. The injury appeared reddish and only partially healed, and the child appeared to be in pain just from the effort of lifting his shirt. Believing that the wound was not accidentally caused, Officer Seda drove L.A. to the police department.
The State next presented testimony from Dr. Steven Kairys, who had twenty-five years of experience in evaluating children for abuse and neglect. Dr. Kairys examined L.A. and his brother R.A. on June 17, 2010. Based on his examination of L.A., Dr. Kairys concluded that the child was physically assaulted. . . . [o]n many parts of his body, all on the right side.
His arms, his legs, his flank, back area.
Many parts of his body were involved with bruises and abrasions.
In addition to "major bruising," the doctor found open wounds for which the child had never received "any medical care." He concluded that the injuries were "recent." He opined that the failure to obtain medical treatment for the child was "medical neglect," because it is important to have a child with such wounds examined to be sure there are not "any deeper injuries." He explained that the injuries were multiple and . . . over multiple parts of his body deep enough to cause injury to the skin itself, not just bruising. Again, by [L.A.'s] history, this was not the first time he had been assaulted; therefore, I had a concern about safety.
During his examination of L.A., Dr. Kairys asked him about the forms of discipline used in his home. L.A. told him that the discipline included beatings with "some kind of an artificial flower with a wire on it, a belt or a curtain rod." L.A. told the doctor that in the most current incident, he and his brother were roughhousing and broke a door. Their mother told their older sister to beat them with a curtain rod. L.A. also told the doctor that both his mother and his older sister had beaten him in the past. ...