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J. M. v. Department of Public Welfare

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

June 19, 2014

J. M., Petitioner
v.
Department of Public Welfare, Respondent

Submitted January 17, 2014.

Appealed from No. 021-13-0042. Department of Public Welfare, Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

Travis S. Weber, Camp Hill, for petitioner.

Mary P. Patterson, Senior Counsel, Harrisburg, for respondent.

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉ E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE BROBSON.

OPINION

Page 1096

BROBSON, JUDGE.

Petitioner J.M. petitions for review of an order of the Department of Public Welfare (Department), Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA), dated July 18, 2013. BHA dismissed J.M.'s appeal, which requested that BHA expunge from the ChildLine & Abuse Registry (ChildLine) a founded report of child abuse identifying J.M. as the perpetrator of the abuse.[1] For the reasons set forth below, we vacate BHA's order and remand for further proceedings.

On August 28, 2003, Lancaster County Children and Youth Services (CYS) filed an indicated report[2] of child abuse naming

Page 1097

J.M. as the perpetrator. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 2a-3a.) Specifically, CYS credited the statements of J.M.'s stepdaughter, E.W., that J.M. sexually abused her during the previous four years. ( Id. at 3a.) On January 30, 2004, the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County (trial court) issued an order adjudicating E.W. as a dependent child as defined in the Juvenile Act.[3] The order also included a determination that E.W. was an abused child as defined in the Child Protective Services Law (Law),[4] in that she was the victim of sexual abuse and exploitation.[5] ( Id. at 105a.) The trial court further found that J.M. was the perpetrator of the abuse. ( Id.) As a consequence, CYS changed the status of the report from indicated to founded. ( Id. at 4a.)

By letter dated March 5, 2004, the Department notified J.M. of the report's changed status. ( Id. at 31a.) By letter dated March 25, 2004, apparently under the mistaken belief that the report was indicated, J.M. requested that the report be expunged for being inaccurate. ( Id. at 13a.) By letter dated April 29, 2004, the Department notified J.M.'s counsel that J.M.'s request failed to specify a reason for the request and that a perpetrator cannot appeal founded reports of child abuse, with certain exceptions. ( Id. at 15a.) The Department further explained that if J.M.'s circumstances matched one of the exceptions, he was to submit a timely written explanation. ( Id.) The Department indicated that BHA would then review and respond to his request. ( Id.)

By letter dated December 3, 2012, J.M. again sought to have the report expunged. ( Id. at 18a.) In the letter, J.M. argued that he was entitled to an appeal nunc pro tunc and that CYS failed to produce substantial evidence establishing that the child abuse occurred, that the report was accurate, and that J.M. was the perpetrator of the abuse. ( Id. at 18a-23a.) J.M. also requested a hearing on the matter. ( Id. at 23a.) On March 4, 2013, BHA issued a Rule to Show Cause why the appeal should go to a hearing rather than be dismissed based on the report's founded status and the trial court's underlying adjudication finding that J.M. committed child abuse, which finding was based on the same factual circumstances that gave rise to the report. ( Id. at 32a-33a.) Thereafter, BHA scheduled a hearing for August 22, 2013, for the purpose of determining whether BHA had jurisdiction over the matter as a result of the underlying trial court adjudication. ( Id. at 34a-35a.)

Prior to the hearing date, CYS filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that a collateral attack of the trial court ruling was improper, among other things. ( Id. at 102a.) J.M. opposed the motion, arguing, inter alia, that his appeal did not constitute an impermissible collateral attack, that substantial evidence did not support a finding that J.M. was a ...


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