DYFS v. R.D./Matter of K.D. and R.D., ? N.J. Super. ?, 2010 N.J. Super. LEXIS 61 (April 22, 2010) – Termination of parental rights affirmed. “Defendant contends the court erred by adopting the findings in the Title 9 action that he abused or neglected his children and incorporating them against him in the guardianship trial. He argues that the court misapplied the doctrine of collateral estoppel to bar relitigation of the issue of abuse under the best interests of the child standard; ignored the exceptions to the general rule; and misinterpreted case law requiring separate litigation where proceedings required different standards of proof….
While DYFS has the burden of establishing abuse or neglect in a fact-finding hearing by a preponderance of the evidence, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(b)(1), the burden of proof in a Title 30 termination case is the clear and convincing evidence standard…. When the underlying finding of abuse, however, is made by clear and convincing evidence and not merely by a preponderance of the evidence, it may support a termination of parental rights….[T]he court in the abuse or neglect proceeding here applied the higher standard of clear and convincing evidence to determine that defendant sexually abused S.D. and that this behavior placed the physical, mental, and emotional condition of all the children in imminent danger of being impaired…. The fact finding in the abuse or neglect proceeding satisfied the first prong of the best interests standard in the termination proceeding.
All of the requirements for collateral estoppel applied to bar relitigation: the issue of sexual abuse and its impact on the children was in fact litigated in the Title 9 action; defendant could have appealed the prior finding after Judge Johnson entered the disposition order; the determination of this issue was essential to the entry of judgment in the Title 9 action; and the parties essentially were identical….
Moreover, defendant does not argue that he lacked a full and fair opportunity to litigate this issue in the prior action…. We are satisfied that Judge Fineman properly employed collateral estoppel by adopting Judge Johnson’s finding by clear and convincing evidence that defendant committed sexual abuse of S.D. when she was in his care and the other children were in the household.”