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NJ Neglect Finding Reversed on Administrative Appeal

27
Jul
2010

by in Criminal Appeals

DYFS v. K.A., ? N.J. Super. ?, 2010 N.J. Super. LEXIS 92 (June 2, 2010) – Determination that defendant abused or neglected her child reversed.

“Here, K.A. challenges the Director’s legal conclusion that, under the circumstances of this case, striking a child several times with a closed fist that results in visible bruising amounts to excessive corporal punishment under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21…. ‘Excessive corporal punishment’ is not specifically defined in Title Nine….

[A]bsent statutory, regulatory, or case law guidance, we will define ‘excessive corporal punishment’ by referring to common usage and understanding. As a starting point, we note that the statute condemns excessive corporal punishment. The term ‘excessive’ means going beyond what is proper or reasonable. Webster’s II New College Dictionary 390 (Margery S. Berube ed., 1995)….

In this case, however, the force used did not lacerate the child’s skin and did not require any type of medical intervention. Bruises, although visible, never exposed A.A. to any further harm if left untreated…. [W]e reject the Director’s characterization as ‘irrelevant:’ (1) the reasons underlying K.A.’s actions; (2) the isolation of the incident; and (3) the trying circumstances which K.A. was undergoing due to A.A.’s psychological disorder. These factors form the prism through which we determine whether K.A.’s actions were indeed ‘excessive.’…

K.A. was confronted with a psychologically disruptive child, unable or unwilling to follow verbal instructions or adhere to passive means of discipline such as a time-out. K.A. was alone, without support from either her spouse/co-parent or from other members of her extended family, such as an experienced mother or aunt. Out of sheer frustration, or through an ill-advised impulse, she struck her child five times. These blows, though undoubtedly painful, did not cause the child any permanent harm, did not require medical intervention of any kind, and were not part of a pattern of abuse….

By any reasonable measure, this is the type of incident that appears to be aberrational to this family. The Division did not at any time believe that removal of the child was necessary to protect her from further harm. Under all of these circumstances, labeling K.A. a child abuser is factually unwarranted and legally unsustainable.”

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