This appeal involved an investigation into a claim that a mother, S.C., abused her seven-year-old son. The Department of Children and Families (Department) concluded, after its investigation, that the claim of abuse was “not established.” Because the abuse allegation was deemed “not established” rather than “unfounded,” it was not eligible to be expunged. S.C. appealed the Department’s action, claiming (1) a deprivation of her due process rights because she was not afforded a hearing and (2) that the Department’s “not established” finding was arbitrary and capricious because the record was insufficient to support a finding that her son was harmed. The Supreme Court of NJ reversed and remanded.
The Court held that an individual must be informed of their opportunity to rebut the Department’s conclusion or supplement the record so that the informal opportunity to be heard before the agency is not illusory. The current process of not making a record available unless and until an appeal is filed was inadequate. In this case, the conclusory letter that the Department sent to S.C. failed to inform her of the basis for the Department’s “not established” finding. Moreover, there did not appear to be an adequate means of formally making known to a parent or guardian under investigation the opportunity to be heard informally and rebut or supplement the record.