NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
M.T., SR., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF N.T., D.T. and M.T., Minors.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: July 3, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FN-16-47-12.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Beth Anne Hahn, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Ellen Buckwalter, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors (Melissa R. Vance, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).
Before Judges Axelrad and Fuentes.
Defendant M.T., Sr., appeals from the Family Part's April 27, 2012 order, following a fact-finding hearing, determining he medically neglected his obese sixteen-year-old son M.T. (Max) by failing to follow up with medical referrals. He challenges the trial court's finding that the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) proved abuse or neglect within the intendment of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(a) and case law. Although the Law Guardian supported the Division's application before the trial court, it now supports appellant's position. We reverse.
Appellant and C.B. have three children, two daughters, now age sixteen and twelve and one-half, and Max, who is the only child involved in this appeal. Appellant is their primary caregiver and sole custodian as C.B., who suffers from mental health and substance abuse problems, has been in and out of the home since 2003. At the time of the subject complaint, the Division was unaware of C.B.'s whereabouts.
On September 23, 2011, the Division filed an FN complaint and order to show cause seeking care and supervision of the children, and the court granted it as to Max that day. Following a fact-finding hearing over two days in February and April, on April 27, 2012, the judge found appellant medically neglected Max by failing to follow up with doctor referrals for Max's high blood pressure and obesity-related medical conditions, and terminated the litigation at the Division's request because the conditions had been remediated.
At the order to show cause hearing, Jenny Sierra, an intake worker, testified for the Division, and appellant testified on his behalf. Sierra testified again at the fact-finding hearing, and the Division also presented the testimony of Dr. Muhammad Rehan Ali Siddiqui, a pediatrician at the St. Joseph's Family Health Center (St. Joseph's Center) who examined Max in 2010 and 2011. Appellant did not testify again at the fact-finding hearing.
Max had been a patient of the St. Joseph's Center since May 4, 1996. On July 2, 2010, Dr. Siddiqui performed a routine annual physical exam of Max, who was then five feet ten inches tall and weighed 284 pounds. The doctor testified that Max's blood pressure was 156/87 on one reading and 146/77 on a second reading. Concerned that Max was obese and to rule out possible causes of high blood pressure, the pediatrician gave appellant referrals for Max to have a cardiology and renal exam and visit a nutritionist. He also recommended that Max have a follow-up with him in three months. Dr. Siddiqui explained that the risks to a child of Max's height, weight and age included cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, early heart attack, stroke, and hypertension leading to ocular disease, renal disease, and stroke.
Appellant did not bring Max back to St. Joseph's Center until May 23, 2011, when he needed medical clearance to play high school football. Max was then six feet tall and weighed 295 pounds. His blood pressure was 142/82, which Dr. Siddiqui considered high. Dr. Siddiqui testified that Max had a high risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but did not diagnose ...