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Department of Children & Families v. J.C.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 29, 2013

DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, [1] Petitioner-Respondent,
v.
J.C., Respondent-Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted August 14, 2013

On appeal from Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Docket No. AHU 09-1603.

Helmer, Paul, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., attorneys for appellant (Patricia B. Quelch, of counsel and on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Christina Duclos, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Koblitz and Accurso.

PER CURIAM

J.C. appeals from a July 20, 2012 final agency decision of the Director of the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the Division) finding that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(b), J.C. abused his thirteen-year-old daughter, A.C., by using excessive corporal punishment in an incident resulting in bruising to A.C.'s face, eyes, legs, foot and elbows. We affirm.

A.C. was a troubled child with medical, psychological and behavioral issues, including engaging in sexual activity from an early age. She moved in with her father, his wife and A.C.'s four step-siblings in the fall of 2007. Although J.C. assisted in obtaining treatment for A.C., her poor behavior continued.

On August 28, 2009, J.C. left A.C., then thirteen years old, at home to babysit two of her step-siblings, a seven-year-old and a two-year-old. A.C. invited over her male friend, Dennis, [2] a football player who was a senior in high school. She told Dennis to enter the home through a rear window. The neighbors, seeing a man in a hooded sweatshirt entering the house in that fashion, called the police. Dennis told the police that he was A.C.'s boyfriend and had visited her at her house in the past to engage in sexual activity.

J.C. testified that when the police relayed this information to him, he "lost it" and entered the home screaming at A.C. that he was "done with [her]" and she was "out of here" and should seek help elsewhere. He then chased her around the kitchen to take her to the police station. A.C. tried to evade capture and the two became physically interactive. As the Director stated in her final decision, J.C. "surmised that A.C. sustained most of the injuries she incurred from contact with the kitchen floor, walls or furniture. [J.C.] related that he 'forcibly picked' A.C. up and brought her to the door three times but each time, she ran back to the kitchen." J.C. admitted stepping on A.C.'s hand or foot. J.C. admitted that at one point, "[o]ut of reaction" he swung at A.C. with his left hand and hit her in her left eye. A photograph taken five days later shows A.C. with a black eye.

A.C. reported to a Division caseworker that J.C. "did not just smack her on the face, but held her by her hair and threw her against the refrigerator. Then picked her up and threw her against the window and . . . then picked [up] a board and hit her on her knee . . . ."

Although she was subpoenaed to testify, A.C. did not appear at the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), instead submitting a letter from her treating doctor indicating that she was "unable to attend for medical reasons[.]"

After hearing testimony from J.C. and the Division caseworker, and reviewing records and photographs, the ALJ issued an initial decision, recommending that the finding of child abuse be reversed and marked as unsubstantiated, and that J.C.'s name not appear on the child abuse registry. The ALJ found that A.C.'s actions triggered the altercation. The ALJ stated, "A.C. was the instigator of the conflict and [J.C.] did not handle it very well. [J.C.] allowed ...


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