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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. A.E.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 21, 2013

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES [1], Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
A.E., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF Ne.R., C.S., K.B., AND Na.R., Minors.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 1, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FN-09-256-11.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Miles Lessem, Designated Counsel, on the briefs).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Sara M. Gregory, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors Ne.R., C.S., K.B. and Na.R. (Noel C. Devlin, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

Before Judges Fisher, Koblitz and O'Connor.

PER CURIAM

A.E. appeals from a July 11, 2011 order finding that she committed an act of abuse or neglect by consuming illegal drugs prior to the birth of her youngest child, C.S. Based on the recent Supreme Court case of New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.L., 213 N.J. 1 (2013), we reverse.

When A.E. gave birth to C.S. in December 2010, both mother and daughter tested positive for Phencyclidine (PCP). C.S. did not suffer any noticeable ill effects from having PCP in her system. Hospital records indicated that A.E. used PCP at least twice during her pregnancy. In response to these findings, the Division conducted an emergency Dodd[2] removal of C.S. A.E.'s three older children had been living with their maternal grandmother while A.E. was in the hospital. The Division placed C.S. with her siblings in the temporary custody of her maternal grandmother.[3]

Based primarily on C.S. and A.E.'s positive PCP tests, the Division filed a Title 9 abuse and neglect complaint. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.31-4 and -5. A.E. indicated through counsel that she would voluntarily submit to services, while denying she had committed an act of abuse or neglect. During the seven month period from the initial order to show cause in December 2010 to the Title 9 fact-finding hearing in July 2011, A.E. failed to submit to the Division's substance abuse referrals or psychological counseling. At the July fact-finding, the Family judge determined that A.E.'s PCP use constituted a substantial risk of harm to her child. The court based its ruling chiefly on A.E.'s prenatal PCP use, but noted that A.E. needed to address her "out of control" PCP addiction.

On appeal A.E. raises one issue:

POINT I: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE DEFENDANT'S BABY OR ANY OF HER OTHER CHILDREN SUFFERED FROM ANY ABUSE OR NEGLECT.

Three months after defendant filed her brief on the merits in this court, our Supreme Court decided A.L., holding that a mother's drug abuse at or prior to the time of birth may not alone support a claim of abuse or neglect. A.E.'s counsel immediately brought the decision to our attention pursuant to Rule 2:6-11(d). Neither the Division nor the Law Guardian responded to this letter as is permitted by the Rule. The judge's decision here, although referencing A.E.'s lack of compliance with drug treatment after the birth of C.S., chiefly relied upon the drug use of defendant while pregnant. In light of the Court's decision in A.L., we vacate the order that memorialized the judge's finding of abuse or neglect, and remand for further consideration.[4]

The July 11, 2011 order is vacated, and the matter remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction.


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