June 20, 2013
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES , Plaintiff-Respondent,
M.R., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF D.S., J.G. and I.M., Minors.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted June 11, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FN-09-0288-12.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Leviston N. Brisolla, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Patricia A. Krogman, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors (Damen J. Thiel, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Fisher and Grall.
Defendant M.R. is the mother of three children. The oldest, D.S. (hereafter Danielle, a fictitious name), was born on April 10, 1994,  and was nearly eighteen years old when she and defendant got into a dispute in their home on January 2, 2012. Based on evidence adduced at a fact-finding hearing that she found credible, Judge Bernadette N. DeCastro concluded that Danielle was an abused or neglected child with regard to what occurred on January 2, 2012. Specifically, the judge found that, following an argument, defendant intentionally struck Danielle in the eye with some type of container.
Following the entry of a final order in this Title Nine action, defendant appealed, arguing:
I. THE DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES DID NOT PROVE ITS CASE BY A PREPONDERANCE OF THE EVIDENCE IN ACCORDANCE WITH N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)-(b).
A. The Finding Of Abuse And Neglect Must Be Reversed Because The Evidence Provided By [The Division] Failed To Satisfy The Corroboration Requirement Contrary To N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)(4) As The Evidence Used To Support The Court's Finding That M.R. Abused And Neglected Her Child Was The Prior Uncorroborated Statement Of [Danielle].
B. The Court Improperly Relied Upon Inadmissible Hearsay Evidence In Violation Of The New Jersey Rules Of Evidence.
II. [THE DIVISION] FAILED TO PROVE THAT M.R. FAILED TO EXERCISE A MINIMUM DEGREE OF CARE UNDER N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(C)(4)(B) BECAUSE PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM AN ALMOST ADULT DAUGHTER DOES NOT AMOUNT TO GROSS NEGLIGENCE OR RECKLESSNESS.
We find insufficient merit in these arguments to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We add only the following brief comments.
With regard to the argument in defendant's Point I(A), we agree with the trial judge that the child's prior statements were not uncorroborated. The child's statements that defendant struck her in the eye with a bottle were corroborated by medical records that demonstrated the child suffered a cut and swelling around her eye that required stitches. This type of corroboration is sufficient to meet the requirements of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)(4). See N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. Z.P.R., 351 N.J.Super. 427, 436 (App. Div. 2002).
And we reject the argument in Point II in which defendant claims that the finding of abuse or neglect cannot be sustained because she was merely defending herself from the actions of her near-adult daughter The problem with defendant's argument is that it is based on a faulty premise The judge rejected defendant's self-defense version that Danielle's eye was injured when defendant in attempting to protect herself raised her arm and her elbow came into contact with Danielle's eye Instead the judge found that defendant and Danielle had a verbal argument which culminated in defendant striking the child in the area of the child's eye "with something" The judge could not determine whether in light of differing factual versions provided by investigators defendant used a perfume bottle or a Febreeze can to strike Danielle But the judge also concluded that this uncertainty did not undermine her decision to accept as credible Danielle's version that defendant was not acting in self-defense but instead intentionally struck her in the eye causing a cut requiring stitches to close The judge's findings are entitled to our deference Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998).