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F. R. v. Department of Public Welfare

September 1, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Brobson

Argued: June 24, 2010



F.R. (Petitioner) petitions for review of an order of the Department of Public Welfare (Department), dated December 2, 2009, upholding the decision of the Department's Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (Bureau) that denied expungement of an indicated report of child abuse against Petitioner and denied removal of his name from the Childline Registry.*fn1 Petitioner argues that substantial evidence did not exist to support a finding that Petitioner caused the injuries sustained by his 10 year old son, P.R., and that the record does not support a finding that P.R. suffered severe pain. Petitioner also argues that the Bureau erred in applying only the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL)*fn2 instead of Section 509 of the Crimes Code, 18 Pa. C.S. § 509 (Crimes Code). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

The facts, as found by the Bureau and adopted by the Department, are substantially as follows.*fn3 On August 1, 2007, Petitioner, the biological father of P.R., told P.R. to complete a reading assignment while Petitioner was out.*fn4

(Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 34a). Petitioner told P.R. if he failed to complete the assignment by the time Petitioner got home, P.R. would receive a "really hard" spanking. (Id.) When Petitioner returned home, P.R. lied about the assignment, stating he could not find the assignment. (Id.) Petitioner searched P.R.'s room for the assignment, while P.R.'s stepmother found the assignment in the downstairs garbage where P.R. had thrown it out. (Id.) Petitioner then took P.R. downstairs and spanked him with an open hand with P.R. wearing just his underpants. (Id. at 35a.)

About one week later, on August 6, 2007, while P.R. was attending an overnight camp in New Jersey, P.R. told several people that his dad had hit him and that it had left marks. (Id.) An oral report of physical child abuse was reported to the New Jersey Division of Family Services that same day. (Id.) On August 7, 2007, Krista DeBroux (DeBroux), a supervisor for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, conducted an investigation into P.R.'s accusations, interviewing P.R. on that day. (Id.) P.R. told DeBroux that he had bruising on his buttocks from being "whacked" by his father "like a million times" the prior Thursday. (Id.) He also told DeBroux that his father spanked him because he threw away his reading assignment. (Id.) DeBroux observed the bruises on P.R.'s buttocks and took photos. (Id.) DeBroux then submitted the results of her investigation to Northampton County Children and Youth Services (C&Y).*fn5 (Id.)

After C&Y received the child abuse report from DeBroux, Donald K. Vaughn (Vaughn), then a caseworker for C&Y, conducted an investigation into the alleged abuse. (Id.) P.R. told Vaughn in an interview that he had been struck thirty-five (35) times by his father for throwing away his reading assignment. (Id. at 35a-36a.) P.R. also told Vaughn that on a pain scale of 0-10, with 10 being severe pain, that the pain P.R. had experienced was about a ten (10), and that he had trouble sleeping on his backside for about three (3) days. (Id. at 36a.) Vaughn also interviewed Petitioner who, when shown the photographs, was surprised at the severity of the bruising. (Id.)

On October 2, 2007, C&Y filed an indicated report of child abuse*fn6 against Petitioner and placed Petitioner's name on the Childline Registry. Petitioner filed an appeal to the Bureau, which held a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ denied Petitioner's request for expungement, and Petitioner appealed to the Department. By order dated December 7, 2009, the Department affirmed the Bureau's decision to deny expungement. Petitioner then filed the subject petition for review with this Court.

On appeal to this Court,*fn7 Petitioner argues that the findings of fact that

Petitioner caused the bruising suffered by P.R. and that P.R. suffered severe pain are not supported by substantial evidence. Petitioner further argues that the Department applied the wrong standard in determining whether there was child abuse in this case.

As to the factual issues, Petitioner argues that the Department did not meet its burden in showing by substantial evidence that (1) P.R.'s injuries were a result of Petitioner's actions and that (2) P.R. suffered severe pain or temporary physical impairment from the injuries. Petitioner is wrong in both instances.

The CPSL defines "substantial evidence" as "evidence which outweighs inconsistent evidence and which a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Section 6303(a) of the CPSL. "[I]n determining whether a finding of fact is supported by substantial evidence, the Court must give the party in whose favor the decision was rendered the benefit of all reasonable and logical inferences that may be drawn from the evidence of record; the weight and credibility to be accorded to the evidence is solely within the province of the . . . fact finder." S.T. v. Dep't of Pub. Welfare, Lackawanna Cnty. Office, Children, Youth & Family Servs., 681 A.2d 853, 856 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996) (citing Bucks Cnty. Children & Youth Servs. v. Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 613 A.2d 48, 50 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992)), appeal denied, 547 Pa. 747, 690 A.2d 1165 (1997).

In this case, there is ample evidence to support a factual finding that Petitioner caused the bruising on P.R. First, it is not disputed that Petitioner struck P.R. open-handed on the buttocks as a disciplinary measure. Second, the testimony of each witness, including Petitioner himself, supports ...

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