Appeal from the Order of the Department of Public Welfare in the case of Appeal of: G.S., File No. 21-85-051.
John H. Chronister, with him, Harold N. Fitzkee, Jr., for petitioner.
Sheryl Ann Dorney, for respondent and intervenor.
Judges Craig, Doyle and Colins, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Colins.
[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 85]
On August 21, 1984, York County Children & Youth Services issued an "indicated report" of child abuse, pursuant to the provisions of the Child Protective Services Law (Law), Act of November 26, 1975, P.L. 438, as amended, 11 P.S. §§ 2201-2224.*fn1 This report indicated that the petitioner, G.S., had sexually abused
[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 86]
his minor daughter, C.S.*fn2 C.S. was eight (8) years old at the time of the last incident.
Pursuant to Section 14 of the Law, 11 P.S. § 2214, it is the duty of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to maintain a Statewide central register consisting of founded*fn3 and indicated reports of child abuse. Upon issuance of the indicated report, G.S. requested the Secretary of DPW, in accordance with Section 15(d) of the Law, 11 P.S. § 2215(d), to expunge the report from this central Statewide register on the grounds that it was inaccurate. Dr. Margaret Jean Sosnowski, a Deputy Secretary for DPW, of the Office of Children, Youth & Families, denied G.S.'s initial request for expungement, and specifically informed G.S. that he had the right to a hearing "before the Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare or his designee, the Office of Hearings and Appeals." A Director in the Office of Hearings and Appeals scheduled such a hearing at the request of G.S. and a hearing was held before an appointed Hearing Officer, at which time G.S., G.S.'s girlfriend, K.S., K.S.'s new husband, C.S., and various experts appeared and testified.
On November 25, 1985, the Hearing Officer issued a recommendation and adjudication, directing that the report be expunged. The Office of Hearings and Appeals, without further hearing, rejected the Hearing Officer's recommendation on December 11, 1985. G.S. requested reconsideration of this decision, which was denied, thus generating this appeal.
[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 87]
The first issue confronting the Court centers upon with whom the final factfinding authority rests in such matters -- the Hearing Officer who conducts the hearing and observes the demeanor of the witnesses -- or the Office of Hearings and Appeals, following a review of the printed record. We note that this appeal is one of several that this Court has recently heard dealing with the Child Protective Services Law. The factual scenarios of these cases are remarkably similar: the parents of the allegedly abused child are usually estranged or divorced; other spouses, or paramours have entered the picture, and there is generally a dispute as to child custody or visitation rights. The testimony presented by the parties is invariably in direct conflict.
In such matters, where credibility determinations are paramount, it would seem preferable that the final factfinding authority be vested in the Hearing Officer, who has actually heard the testimony of the witnesses. The Hearing Officer would then be able to use many of the traditional methods of evaluating testimony; the behavior of the witness on the witness stand, his or her demeanor while testifying, his or ...