NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
N.B., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF D.B., Minor.
November 6, 2017
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division,
Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FN-12-0185-15.
A. Gies, Designated Counsel, argued the cause for appellant
(Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; David A. Gies,
on the briefs).
M. Bradt, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for
respondent (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General,
attorney; Melissa Dutton Schaffer, Assistant Attorney
General, of counsel; Tasha M. Bradt, on the brief).
Belfatto Crisp, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the
cause for minor (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law
Guardian, attorney; Olivia Belfatto Crisp, on the brief).
Judges Sabatino, Ostrer  and Whipple.
N.B. (mother) appeals from a May 16, 2016 order terminating
litigation after a fact-finding hearing wherein a Family Part
judge determined she had abused or neglected her son, D.B.
fact-finding hearing, the trial judge impermissibly admitted
and relied on insufficiently corroborated statements of the
child, as well as facts and complex diagnoses within a
hearsay report of a psychologist consultant of the Division
of Child Protection and Permanency (Division). For these
reasons, we reverse.
glean the following facts from the record. On January 10,
2015, the Woodbridge Township Police Department contacted the
Division to investigate a complaint by the biological father
of then twelve-year-old D.B. who had been living with mother.
A Woodbridge Township Police officer reported D.B. called an
aunt because he was frightened after mother left him alone
during the day in their hotel residence.
officer reported the child's aunt picked him up from the
hotel and took him back to her home. The father picked up
D.B. from the aunt's home and took the child to police
headquarters. D.B. reportedly told the officer that mother
and her boyfriend had a verbal argument, and during this
argument, mother said "she was going to harm herself one
of these days." The Division workers responded to the
Woodbridge police headquarters and met with the officer, who
reported what the child had told him earlier about
mother's suicidal statement.
other officers went to mother's hotel to conduct what is
termed a "welfare check." According to the police,
mother reported she did have an argument with her boyfriend,
went to take a drive for a couple of hours, and left D.B. at
the hotel because he did not want to go for a drive. The
officers reported mother was in a good mood and stated
"when she said she was going to hurt herself it was just
a figure of speech in the heat of the moment."
Division Special Response Unit (SPRU) workers met with D.B.,
who reportedly told them mother, her boyfriend, and he were
all in a car heading home from dinner the night before,
mother and her boyfriend argued, and mother told her
boyfriend, "[s]ince we're all here why don't you
drive off the bridge and kill us all." According to the
Division's investigation summary, D.B. said mother and
her boyfriend previously had physical fights, but it was not
physical that particular day. D.B. reported he had attempted
in the past to intervene during fights but was never hurt
when trying to protect mother. D.B. also told the SPRU
workers he called his aunt because he did not feel safe and
expressed fear that mother was "going to go off on [him]
when she gets [him] alone."
that evening, the SPRU workers interviewed mother who
reportedly stated that she had an argument with her boyfriend
but denied saying she wanted to drive off a cliff, or that
she ever made any comments about wishing to hurt herself.
According to the Division's investigation summary, mother
also denied ever having any physical altercations with her
boyfriend, stating they just argued verbally.
next day, the Division removed D.B. from mother's custody
pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29 and N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.30, and on
January 14, 2015, the Division filed a verified complaint
seeking the care and supervision of the child pursuant to
N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 to -8.73 and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12. The court
then placed D.B. with his father, where he remains.
January 12, 2015, the Division assigned an intake worker who
spoke with mother. According to the intake worker's
written report, mother told the intake worker she was not
fearful of her boyfriend and if domestic violence did occur
she would call 911. That same day, the intake worker spoke to
the boyfriend, who said he would "do anything he [could]
to ensure that [mother] gets [the child] back with her"
and was "willing to comply with the Batterers
Intervention Program and undergo a psychological evaluation
if needed." The intake worker prepared her portion of
the investigation summary based on information she received
from the SPRU workers but did not interview the child, nor
question mother, her boyfriend, or the father about the
January 10, 2015 incident.
was evaluated at the direction of the Division by Melissa
Rivera Marano, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist, who prepared
a written report evaluation of the child on March 4, 2015.
This report was presented to the court with Dr. Marano's
certification, dated May 17, 2015, which stated: (1) she is a
licensed, practicing psychologist in New Jersey; (2) the
report was made in the regular course of business; and (3)
the report was made within a reasonable time after "the
condition and/or occurrence."
report noted D.B.'s "appropriate hygiene and dress[,
]" as well as the fact that his "[m]ood and affect
were within normal range." The report also contained the
D.B.'s statements ...