Appeal from the Order July 14, 1986 in The Court of Common Pleas of Snyder County Juvenile No. 25 - 1986.
Ambrose R. Campana, Williamsport, for appellant.
Cirillo, President Judge, Olszewski and Hester, JJ.
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This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Snyder County, Juvenile Division, upholding an agency determination of child sexual abuse.
R.M.R. was born in December of 1980 and is the child of Sherry Ryan and appellant Kenneth DeLong. The child resides with his maternal grandparents, Henry and Dorothy Royer. On April 1, 1985, Children & Youth Services of Snyder County ("CYS") received a report that R.M.R. was being sexually abused when in the custody of his father. At the time, DeLong was attempting to gain custody of his child. A CYS caseworker, James Rinck, met with R.M.R. on April 2 and 3 and concluded that the allegations were substantiated.
On April 9, 1985, the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas suspended DeLong's visitation rights. The court also ordered CYS to investigate the charges of abuse.
On May 22, 1985, CYS filed a child Protective Services investigation report stating that DeLong had sexually abused his child. Pursuant to the provisions of the Child Protective Services Law, 11 P.S. §§ 2201-2224, this report was an "Indicated report." The Act defines such a report as one "made pursuant to this act if an investigation by the child protective service determines that substantial evidence of the alleged abuse exists based on (i) available medical evidence, (ii) the child protective service investigation, or (iii) an admission of the acts of abuse by the child's parent or person responsible for the child's welfare." 11 P.S. § 2203.
The Act also provides for "founded" and "unfounded" reports. A founded report is "a report made pursuant to this act if there has been any judicial adjudication based on a finding that a child who is a subject of the report has been abused." An unfounded report is "any report made pursuant to this act unless the report is a 'founded report' or unless an investigation by the appropriate child protective
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service determines that the report is an 'indicated report.'" Id. § 2203.
The Act also provides that the subject of a report may at any time request the agency to expunge its records on the grounds of inaccuracy. See id. § 2215(d). The statute defines expunge as "to strike out or obliterate entirely so that the expunged information may not be stored, identified, or later recovered by any means mechanical, electronic or otherwise." Id. § 2203.
DeLong later made such a request but on April 30, 1986, his petition was denied. On May 5, 1986, he filed an appeal of this decision to the appropriate administrative agency. While DeLong's appeal was pending, CYS filed a petition to initiate proceedings in juvenile court.
At the start of the hearing in juvenile court, appellant's attorney, Ambrose Campana, objected, claiming that the court lacked jurisdiction. This exchange ensued:
MR. CAMPANA: Your Honor, I would like to place my objection to these proceedings on the record. We're proceeding under the child protective services act, as I understand it, for the purpose of determining whether or not the report of child abuse filed with this county's family and children's welfare service in April of 1985, is a, quote, founded report as defined by the child protective services act. And additionally if there is a founded report that this Court make a finding as to who the alleged child abuser is.
I object to these proceedings, Your Honor, because I don't think that the child protective services act encompasses jurisdiction of that sort. Additionally under the child protective services act a hearing is presently scheduled in Harrisburg for July of 1986, upon Kenneth DeLong's, the father in this case, request for a hearing to expunge a record that was filed against him on -- in these circumstances. The report that he's asking to be expunged is an indicated report of child abuse perpetrated by him upon his minor son; and for those reasons, Your
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Honor, I place my objection on the record to those proceedings.
THE COURT: Do you have a position as to how the Court is to determine a founded report since the definition includes a judicial adjudication, other than proceeding such as those initiated today?
MR. CAMPANA: No, Your Honor, I do not.
MR. CAMPANA: Apparently the act indicates a judicial determination and, of course, that's only by a judge. And I can't -- I cannot argue, Your Honor. I think that the Court's authority doesn't extend beyond the definition of founded report that was just read by the Court from the child protective services act.
CYS responded that it was not proceeding under the Child Protective Services Act but under the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 6331 et seq., though it was not requesting a determination of dependency or delinquency. The court did not resolve this issue but allowed the parties to proceed.
At the hearing, James Rinck of CYS and Dr. Robyn E. Johns, a clinical psychologist who had examined the child, both testified that they believed R.M.R. had been sexually abused. On June 30, 1986, the court issued an order substantiating the allegations of abuse. The trial court's order denying DeLong's motion for post-trial relief stated that appellant DeLong was not a party to the action and had no standing to challenge the result. The court then wrote, assuming that DeLong does have the requisite standing, his motions are denied. DeLong then appealed to this court.
On July 1, 1986, CYS changed the original "indicated" report to a "founded" report. Also around this same time, DeLong's appeal of the denial of his expungement request was heard by a hearing officer of the Department of Public Welfare ("DPW"). DPW refused to expunge what by then was a "founded" report of child abuse.
Appellant presents two issues for our review: (1) whether the court of common pleas properly exercised jurisdiction
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over this matter; and (2) whether the court committed reversible error by improperly admitting hearsay evidence. Because of our disposition of this case, we need not address these issues separately.
Appellant claims that the court of common pleas lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this case. He states that the Child Protective Services Act ("CPSA"), 11 P.S. § 2201 et seq., defines a founded report as a report made after a judicial adjudication of child abuse. He argues that this provision means a judicial adjudication pursuant to a statute other than the CPSA. DeLong asserts that the CPSA does not provide an independent means to adjudicate child abuse.
Appellee CYS disagrees. It argues that the Act should be construed to allow the appropriate agency to request an adjudication of child abuse from a court. It claims that the CPSA enlarges the jurisdiction of our juvenile courts so that they may now make determinations of dependency, delinquency and child abuse.
The trial court apparently adopted still another interpretation. The judge's exchange with appellant's counsel indicates that he believes that the CPSA itself provides for judicial determinations of child abuse.
Initially, we note that the appellee's interpretation of the CPSA has already been rejected by this court. In In re M.B., 356 Pa. Super. 257, 514 A.2d 599 (1986), a panel of this court held that the Juvenile Act envisions actions for dependency and delinquency but does not include a separate action for child abuse. The M.B. court found that the CPSA, as a separate and distinct statute, does not alter the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Act. Id., 356 Pa. Superior Ct. at 262, 514 A.2d at 601. Our review of this issue leads us to a similar conclusion.
As outlined above, resolution of this appeal hinges upon statutory interpretation. In Pennsylvania, courts must follow the rules of statutory construction as provided by our legislature. See 1 Pa.C.S.A. § 1921. This section states:
(a) The object of all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the
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General Assembly. Every statute shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its provisions.
(b) When the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit.
(c) When the words of the statute are not explicit, the intention of the General Assembly may be ascertained by ...