The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Simpson
BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE JOSEPH F. McCLOSKEY, Senior Judge.
J.C. (Mother) petitions for review from an order of the Department of Public Welfare, Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (DPW), denying her request for expungement from the ChildLine Registry.*fn1 Mother argues that the initial report of child abuse should be deemed "unfounded" by operation of law because a final determination was not made within the 60-day time limit of Section 6337(b) of the Child Protective Services Law (Law), 23 Pa. C.S. §6337(b). Rejecting this argument, we affirm.
In February 2006, ChildLine forwarded a report of suspected child abuse to Butler County Children and Youth Services (CYS) for investigation. Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 11a; see also Notes of Testimony (N.T.), 7/23/2008, at 33-34. The subject of the abuse was Mother's then 10-year-old daughter, A.C. (Child). Sometime prior to April 5, 2006, criminal action was initiated against Mother. See R.R. at 11a-12a. On April 5, 2006, CYS filed a Child Protective Services Investigation Report (CY-48 form) with ChildLine listing the case status as "pending criminal court action" and designating the abuse perpetrator as Mother. Id. CYS noted on the CY-48 form: "Case is pending in both juvenile and in criminal court. CYS will wait until criminal process is complete." Id.
CYS made other notations on the CY-48 form. In a list of descriptions of types of abuse or neglect, CYS marked off the boxes next to the phrases "Bruises," "Punctures/Bites," and "Sexual Assault." Id. Further, CYS described the particular nature of the abuse: "Child disclosed a pattern of ongoing assaults; there are scars on her head, feet, nose, stomach. Child also made to eat feces, urine, vinegar." Id.
CYS continued to inform ChildLine of the pending criminal action against Mother. N.T. at 39-42; see also R.R. at 15a-17a. On May 11, 2007, Mother pled no contest to two counts of aggravated assault against Child. R.R. at 24a. CYS was aware of Mother's no contest plea on the date of entry. N.T. at 48. Mother contends the date of the plea ended the delay attributable to pending court action and triggered the 60-day investigation/final determination period in the Law.
More than 60 days thereafter, on July 17, 2007, Mother was sentenced to 15 to 30 months in a state correctional facility. Eight days later, on July 25, 2007, CYS filed a CY-48 form with ChildLine designating the case status as "founded." R.R. 13a-14a. The new CY-48 form repeated the particular nature of the abuse described in the previous CY-48 form. Id. The new CY-48 form also noted three factors that contributed to the abuse: (1) stress, (2) Mother's impaired judgment, and (3) the abuse Mother suffered as a child. Id.*fn2
Following the "founded report" determination by CYS, Mother requested a hearing before DPW to expunge the child abuse report. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing ensued where a single witness, CYS intake caseworker Sue Counts (Caseworker), testified. Caseworker testified that, while CYS was aware of Mother's no contest plea on the date of entry, CYS waited until after sentencing to determine the report as "founded." N.T. at 47-49. Caseworker testified that, based on her 17 years of experience, it was ChildLine's policy to "send back" CY-48 forms filed prior to sentencing. N.T. at 50.
The ALJ determined CYS filed a timely "founded report" with ChildLine. The ALJ concluded there was no requirement in the law that CYS had to change the report's status within 60 days of the plea. Further, the ALJ deemed it "not only reasonable but prudent to wait until after sentencing and, perhaps, [Mother's] appeal period [in the criminal proceeding] has run, to notify ChildLine of the change in status." R.R. at 124a. DPW then entered an order dismissing Mother's appeal. R.R. at 145a.
On appeal to this Court,*fn3 Mother asserts CYS failed to make a timely determination of a "founded report." Specifically, Mother argues the determination was untimely because CYS made the determination more than 60 days after the entry of her no contest plea. Mother asserts that indefinite suspension of the investigation/final determination period by pending court action is an unreasonable interpretation of the Law; therefore, resort to the statutory definition of "founded report" is necessary to determine the time limits for delay attributable to pending court action. By definition, the entry of a no contest plea is a judicial adjudication that triggers the determination of a "founded report." At this point, further delay is not attributable to pending court action.
Thus, Mother argues Section 6337(b) of the Law, when read in conjunction with the definition of a founded report set forth in Section 6303, 23 Pa. C.S. §6303, required CYS to make a "founded report" determination within 60 days of her no contest plea. Mother argues the untimely status determination of the report requires the report be expunged. See 23 Pa. C.S. §6337(b).
Section 6337(b) of the Law provides:
Absence of other determination.-If an investigation of a report of suspected child abuse conducted by the appropriate county agency pursuant to this chapter does not determine within 60 days of the date of the initial report of the instance of suspected child abuse that the report is a founded report, an indicated report or an unfounded report, or unless within the same 60-day period court action has been initiated and is responsible for the delay, the report shall be considered to be an unfounded report, and all information identifying the subjects ...