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New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. S.H.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

January 23, 2015

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, [1] Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
S.H. and M.H., Defendants-Respondents. IN THE MATTER OF S.H., a minor

Submitted December 15, 2014

Approved for Publication January 23, 2015.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FN-20-80-13.

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for appellant ( Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Mary C. Zec, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent S.H. ( Deric Wu, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent M.H. ( Catherine Reid, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor S.H. ( Lisa M. Black, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Before Judges SABATINO, GUADAGNO, and LEONE.

Page 1257

[439 N.J.Super. 139] OPINION

GUADAGNO, J.A.D.

We are asked again to determine when a parent's use of corporal punishment exceeds the boundaries of acceptable discipline

Page 1258

and enters the proscribed area of child abuse. This perplexing issue is further complicated when the parents are confronted with a child who suffers from behavioral issues. The strain of dealing with an oppositional child can exact a toll on parents and occasionally lead to a reaction where the child is harmed. This case presents such a scenario.

In response to a profanity-laced outburst by her then fifteen-year-old son, S.H. (Scott),[2] defendant S.H. (Susan) initiated a [439 N.J.Super. 140] physical altercation with Scott which began with throwing a shoe at him and progressed to hitting him with her hands, striking him with a golf club, and biting him on his shoulder. The Division intervened and sought a finding of child abuse against Susan and her husband, M.H. (Mark).

After a fact-finding hearing, the Family Part found that the parents did not abuse or neglect Scott. Rather, the judge found that Scott had provoked his mother and that her actions in striking and injuring him were therefore justified.

The Division appeals the decision as to Susan only and argues that the judge erred in concluding that she did not abuse her son. The Law Guardian agrees with the Division that Susan abused Scott by inflicting excessive corporal punishment. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

I.

Scott is the youngest of three children born to Susan and Mark. In 2012, Scott lived at home with his parents[3] and two older sisters, Sa.H. (Sara), then age twenty-one, and So.H. (Sophie), then age nineteen. On Monday, December 10, 2012, Scott was at home sitting on a couch watching television when Sara noticed that several personal items were missing from her room, including a watch, sunglasses, a necklace, two gold rings, and two gold chains. Sara told Susan about the missing items, and Susan confronted Scott.

Scott got up from the couch and angrily responded to Susan, " Why the fuck you always blaming me for something?" Susan then threw a shoe with a heel at Scott. When Susan threw a second shoe at him, Scott deflected it. Scott tried to walk away, but Susan grabbed him and began to hit him with her hands. When Scott again attempted to leave, Susan held him back. [439 N.J.Super. 141] Eventually, Susan grabbed a golf club and began hitting Scott's legs with it. During the confrontation, Susan yelled, " I told you to stop disrespecting me." Scott yelled back, " Get the fuck off of me." When Scott took the first golf club away from Susan, she grabbed another, which Scott also took. During the struggle, Susan bit Scott at least three times on the back.[4] Mark entered the room and attempted to intervene. He later called the police. Before Scott left the home, he kicked several windows, breaking two of them.

Later that day, Susan put Scott's bed, his clothing, and some of his possessions

Page 1259

outside of the home. Scott did not return to the home for two days. During this time he did not eat or sleep, and, with no place to stay, ...


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