RAY et al v. DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, STATE OF NEW JERSEY
MEMORANDUM and ORDER granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's 62 Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Defendant's 63 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Peter G. Sheridan on 4/12/2018. (km)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
ALBERT RAY, PATRICIA LAUDATI, and
Civil Action No.: 14-cv-3 824 (PGS)
in her official capacity as the Commissioner of
the State of New Jersey, Department of Children and
This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment brought by Plaintiffs
Erasmo Carmona, Patricia Laudati, Albert Ray (ECF No. 62) and a cross-motion for summary
judgment brought by Defendant, Allison Blake, Commissioner of the State of New Jersey’s
Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) (ECF No. 63).
Plaintiffs are elementary and middle school teachers who complain that Defendant DCF
investigated an alleged child abuse claim and that, as a result of the investigation, DCF made a
“not established” finding. This means that no child abuse was found, but the teacher was found to
have harmed or placed a child at a risk of harm (herein referred to as “harm provision”). According
to the Code of Ethics of the Education Profession, an educator “believes in the worth and dignity
of each human being” and “shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions
There is a unit within DCF known as the Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit (IAIU) which investigates
allegations of child abuse in and out-of-home settings such as schools. In this Memorandum, I refer only to DCF,
harmful to learning or to health and safety.” Here, to accuse a teacher with creating a risk of harm
to a student is a serious accusation which Plaintiffs allege injures their reputation. Each teacher
seeks a due process hearing under the Fourteenth Amendment in order to defend their name. Each
teacher asserts that DCF acted arbitrarily in determining the child abuse claim were “not
established;” and that DCF permanently keeps a record(s) which contains a “not established”
finding. Such reports can be disclosed to certain categories of persons. At this time, there is no
protocol established by regulation to prevent disclosure of such a findings report from occurring.
Since the eighties, there have been federal and state laws as well as government programs
to monitor and combat child abuse and neglect. 42 U.S.C.A.
§ 5104. This includes federal grants
to the states for child abuse and neglect prevention programs.
Such grants were awarded to implement risk and safety assessment protocols in order to protect
children and to conduct investigations. 42 U.S.C.A. §5106a(a)(4)(14). In order to manage the
child abuse issue, the prevalence of child abuse occurrences had to be determined. As such, the
federal government requires that each state account for the number of children reported to it as
victims of child abuse and neglect; and the state must also note the number of those claims that,
after investigation of the claim, were substantiated, unsubstantiated or determined to be false. 42
In order to accomplish the accounting as well as to oversee regulatory operations in New
Jersey. DCF is authorized to investigate complaints about child abuse “for the protection of
children under 18
who have had serious injury inflicted upon them by other than accidental
means.” N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.8(a). Under this law, the ‘safety of the children served shall be of
paramount concern.” Id. It “is the intent of this legislation to assure that the lives of innocent
children are immediately safeguarded from further injury and possible death and that the legal
rights of such children are fully protected.” Id. See also DYFSv. AL., 213 N.J. 1(2013); DYFSv.
1.5., 214 N.J. 8, cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 529 (2013).
The statutory scheme defines a child as abused or neglected where a parent or guardian (a)
inflicts physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death, disfigurement or impairment of
physical or emotional health; (b) creates a substantial or ongoing risk of physical injury to a child
other than accidental means; (c) sexually abuses a child; and (d) places a child in imminent dangers
of becoming impaired due to failure to exercise a minimum degree of care. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.9. The
statutory scheme also provides that when the investigator finds there is a substantiated finding of
child abuse, a hearing will be held and thereafter, if substantiated, the accused will be entered on
the child abuse registry. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10. Lastly, the statute indicates that the records of the
investigation shall be kept confidential, but thereafter itemizes 23 categories of agencies and
private entities to whom disclosure may be made under certain circumstances. N.J.S.A. 9:68.10(a).
Pursuant to those statutory mandates, DCF promulgated regulations setting forth the
process for undertaking a child protection investigation. N.J.A,C. 3A:10-4.1. More specifically,
the regulations detail what steps an investigator must employ in conducting an investigation, such
as interviewing the alleged child victim, the caregiver, the reporter of the conduct, etc. Id. The
investigator may seize evidence such as clothing, and may photograph the scene during the
investigation. N.J.A.C. 3A:l0-43. The investigator may refer the case to the prosecutor or seek
law enforcement assistance. N.J.A.C. 3A:10-5.1, 5.4. And finally, the investigator may seek
emergency placement of an abused child. N.J.A.C. 3A:10-6.2.
Although the role of the investigator is very specific in the regulatory scheme, often the
facts ascertained during an investigation do not clearly support a finding that child abuse occurred.
As such, federal and state law provide for the expungement of records of an individual accused of
child abuse, where the child abuse claim was determined to be unfounded.
51 06a(b)(2)(A)(xii); N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.40a.
Previously, DCF investigators would classify the conduct of alleged child abuse or neglect
as either substantiated or unfounded. If the conduct was substantiated, the accused was subject to
a hearing, and the identity of that person was placed on the child abuse registry. If the conduct
was unfounded, the identity of the accused would not be placed on the child abuse registry, and,
generally, the record could be expunged within three years. Over years of experience, DCF
investigators found that the categories of “substantiated” and “unfounded” did not adequately
address the range of conduct investigated. Obviously there is a “large gap between abuse and
proper behavior,” that was not addressed by the categories previously set in place. See In re Al.,
393 N.J. Super. 114, 124, 922 A.2d 817, 823, fn. 3 (App. Div. 2007). The new regulation adopted
by DCF appear to have sought bridging this gap by amending the types of findings that an
investigator may use to categorize allegations of child abuse. That is, DCF adopted a four-tier
framework. N.J.A.C. 3A: 10-7.3(c). DCF explained in its rule proposal that “redefining the current
investigative findings of ‘substantiated’ and ‘unfounded’ and adding two intermediary
investigative findings of ‘established’ and ‘not established” would
allow the investigative findings and records to better reflect the
circumstances of an investigation. The inclusion of the “established”
finding in addition to the existing “substantiated” finding will allow
the Division to distinguish incidents of abuse and neglect that are of
sufficient concern that the incidents would necessitate a Child
Abuse Record Information [CARl] disclosure. Lastly, when a
finding is determined to be “unfounded” such records are expunged
from the Division’s records; the inclusion of the “not established”
finding will allow the Division to retain records where a child is
found to have been harmed or placed at risk of harm. This will allow
the Division to have a better and more comprehensive understanding
of a family should additional referrals be received by the Division
in the future.
[44 N.J.R. 357(a) (Feb. 21, 2012).]
The definition of the four categories of incidents including the two new intermediary
investigative findings were adopted by regulation (N.J.A.C. 3A:10-7.3(c)):
For each allegation, the Department representative shall make
a finding that an allegation is “substantiated,” “established,” “not
established,” or “unfounded.”
An allegation shall be “substantiated” if the
preponderance of the evidence indicates that a child is an “abused
or neglected child” as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 and either the
investigation indicates the existence of any of the circumstances in
N.J.A.C. 3A:10-7.4 or substantiation is warranted based on
consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors listed in
2. An allegation shall be “established” if the preponderance
of the evidence indicates that a child is an “abused or neglected
child” as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.2 1, but the act or acts committed
or omitted do not warrant a finding of “substantiated” as defined in
3. An allegation shall be “not established” if there is not a
preponderance of the evidence that a child is an abused or neglected
child as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.2 1, but evidence indicates that the
child was harmed or was placed at risk of harm.
4. An allegation shall be “unfounded” if there is not a
preponderance of the evidence indicating that a child is an abused
or neglected child as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.2 1, and the evidence
indicates that a child was not harmed or placed at risk of harm.
Upon completion of an investigation, the investigator categorizes the conduct into one of the four.
A finding of “established” or “substantiated” constitutes a determination that a child was abused
or neglected. N.J.A.C. 3A:10-7.3(d). After a hearing which affirms the investigator’s category,
such a finding may be entered on the Child Abuse Registry. N.J.A.C. 3A:10-7.6(c)(27). The
Registry is a “report of all information regarding child abuse or neglect accessible to the public.”
A DCF employee may disclose the identity of such an individual who is set
forth in the registry under certain circumstances. N.J.A.C. 3A: 10-7.7(a). The disclosure is limited.
“The legislature requires the Department to forward all reports of substantiated findings to the
Child Abuse Registry.” N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.lOa. Such records are “to be kept confidential,” except if
disclosure is “authorized under subsections (B), (C), (D), (E), (F) and (G) of the statute.” N.J.S.A.
9:6-8.lOa. These subsections permit disclosure under certain circumstances. Subsection (B) lists
23 types of governmental bodies, individuals and organizations to whom DCF may release child
abuse information. Of the 23, one exception (13) allows “any person or entity mandated to consider
child abuse or neglect information when conducting a background check or employment related
screening to access the report.” N.J.S.A.9:6-8.lOa(b) (13). So if a teacher wishes to volunteer as a
little league coach or as a Girl Scout leader, arguably, his or her record may be subject to disclosure
under this exception. In addition, if a teacher sought a new teaching position in a different school
district, the report may also be disclosed to any prospective employer investigating the teacher’s
Moreover, another exception, (14), provides that “any person conducting a
disciplinary, administrative or judicial proceeding to determine the terms of employment or
continued employment,” may access the record. So, exception (14) may also subject a teacher to
ongoing disclosure to any school administrator, school board, licensing board, or others who may
have some control over terms of employment. On the other hand, the statute also authorizes the
Department to deny access to authorized persons if such access would “compromise the integrity
of the Department investigation,” or would “likely endanger” the well-being of any child once the
teacher is listed on the Child Abuse Registry. There is no mechanism to prevent disclosure.
N.J.S.A.9:6-8.lOa(e). In its brief, DCF suggests that the identity on the Child Abuse Registry is
not as broad as described above, but it may be disclosed in response to a Child Abuse Registry
Investigation Check (CARl check); and DCF acknowledges that a CARl check is authorized:
under limited circumstances. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.11; N.J.A.C. 3A:1O7.6(c)(2) and -7.7. The following persons are subject to CART
checks: Child Care Center Employees
Resource Parent applications N.J.S.A. 30:4C-27.7; Kinship Legal
Guardians N.J.S.A. 30:4C-86; DCF/Division of Developmental
Disabilities (DDD) Residential Center Employees N.J. S .A. 30 :4C27.22; Registered Family Child Care providers N.J.S.A. 30:5B25.3; Division of Family Development (DFD) Approved Homes
N.J.S.A. 30:5B-32; Professional Guardians for the Elderly
N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.lOe; Persons assuming care for children of
N.J.S.A. 9:6-8-lOc; Adoption Agency
9:3-40.8; Prospective Court-Appointed
Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-92(d)(2);
Adoptive parents (private or DCF)
N.J.S.A. 9:3-54.2; DCF
employees; and Juvenile Justice Commission employees Prison
Rape Elimination Act (PREA) —42 U.S.C. 15601; 28 CFR 115.317;
(ECF 63-1 at 9, n.2). The problem which arises is that for substantiated or established cases, the
accused has a right to a hearing in order to dispute such a finding; and if the claim is unfounded,
the accused is not placed on the Child Abuse Registry, and the record is usually expunged after
three years (N.J.A.C. 3A:10-7.7(b); N.J.A.C. 3A:10-8). However, if an investigator finds certain
conduct to be “not established,” DCF maintains a record for an unlimited period of time, and there
are no established means or procedures for an accused teacher to dispute the findings.
In reviewing the category of “not established,” Plaintiff teachers complain that the Findings
Report of the investigator are arbitrary; and they should have a right to a hearing or have some
method to defend themselves against such a finding that a “child was harmed or was placed at risk
of harm.” (ECF 62-8 at 6). To the contrary, DCF argues that a “not established” finding is
insignificant, since the record is not placed on the Child Abuse Registry, and is not readily
available to the general public. Therefore, DCF concludes that the “not established” finding does
not rise to the level where due process rights must be afforded to a teacher. N.J.A.C. 3A:107.6(c)(2). (ECF 63-1 at 30-32).
Both parties submitted Statements of Undisputed Facts in support of their motions, which
included the Findings Report of DCF on each Plaintiff teacher for each investigation. Those
Findings Reports are part of the record which DCF maintains. Each of the Plaintiff teachers were
investigated by a DCF investigator as a result of an incident with a child, and each received a “not
established” finding as a result of the investigation. That is, the DCF investigator could not find
by a preponderance of the evidence that the teachers abused or neglected a child, however, there
is an implication that the child was harmed or placed at a risk of harm by the teacher’s actions.
DCF then memorialized its findings in a Findings Report which was communicated to the school
district, and DCF maintained a permanent record of the findings. DCF’s submitted statement of
undisputed facts does not include any facts about the procedure and safeguards it maintains for
“not established” Findings Reports. Each teacher is discussed below:
On or about January 30, 2014, the DCF commenced an investigation into allegations of
child abuse and neglect against Plaintiff Patricia Laudati, an elementary school teacher at the
Walter C. Black Elementary School in East Windsor, New Jersey. (Second Amended Complaint
at ¶20; ECF 37). She had been teaching for approximately 40 years when the incident occurred.
(ECF 62-6 at 46:1-24; 49:2-8). According to the Findings Report from DCF, Ms. Laudati “knocked
on the top of a [child’s] head three times,” and her conduct was categorized as “not established.”
(ECF 62-3 at 1). The Findings Report dated February 25, 2014 is a letter to Ms. Laudati from the
DCF investigator. This letter was also forwarded to the superintendent of the school district. (ECF
62-3). The Findings Report has several major points.
The Findings Report sets forth the DCF’s authority to investigate allegations of
child abuse and neglect (ECF 62-3 at 1);
The DCF investigator found the “Physical Abuse/Substantial Risk of Physical
Injury Environment Injurious to Health and Welfare [of a child] is not established” (Id.);
The Findings Report notes that “no adjudicative findings have been made,” and
DCF’s role is “solely investigatory”; and “not established” findings are not disclosed in a child
abuse registry check (CARl) but are maintained in agency records (Id.);
The Findings Report incorrectly defines “not established” as one where “there is no
preponderance of evidence that the child was abused or neglected as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21”
but it fails to complete the regulatory definition of not established with the clause
indicates the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm.” (Id.).
The “investigative observation” section of the Findings Report consisted of
interviews of students, one of which corroborated the alleged victims account while others did not
(ECF 62-3 at 1-2). This section also mentions that Ms. Laudati “denied that this incident occurred”
during her interview. Ultimately the investigator found that “[b]ased upon the interviews and
physical observations of [the child] she was not abused.”
The report notes that “appropriate licensing or supervisory authority may take
additional action as a result of the investigation”; and the confidentiality statement indicates
limited disclosure may be made. (ECF 62-3 at 2). The confidentiality statement reads:
Please be advised that the results of the Department’s investigation,
including identifying Information, are maintained in the
Department’s files and can only be disclosed as set forth in N.J.SA
9:6-8.lOa. In accordance with the statute, however, we can release
the findings report to administration to help ensure that proper care,
treatment or supervision is provided, not only to the specific child
or children involved here but to all children under the care and
supervision of the above referenced facility. These reports may be
used by any person or entity conducting a disciplinary,
administrative or judicial proceeding to determine terms of
employment of an officer, employee or volunteer with an agency or
organization providing services to children.
Also be advised that pursuant to this statute, the Department is
required to forward to the police or law enforcement agency certain
identifying information regarding all substantiated incidents of child
abuse and neglect, including the identity of persons alleged to have
committed child abuse or neglect and of victims of child abuse or
(Id.). The above confidentiality statement refers to a statute (N.J.S.A. 9:6-8AOa), which allows the
disclosure of information about an accuser who is placed on the Child Abuse Registry (see
discussion on p. 5-7). Since only substantiated or established reports are placed on the said registry,
this statement infers that that DCF may disclose a “not established” finding on a CARl check.
Similarly, in the last paragraph, it infers that DCF may disclose the report to law enforcement
regarding “all substantiated claims,” but here there is not such finding.
The content of the
confidentiality statement raises concerns that DCF may disclose such information to the 23
categories of recipients under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.lOa, despite statutes to the contrary. Obviously, the
Findings Report must be disclosed to the teacher’s present school district and to the police, if they
were contacted previously, but the confidentiality statement does not limit disclosure in that
The Findings Report is also troubling because only a portion of the definition of “not
established” is set forth in the Findings Report. Without the full definition, one is uncertain whether
the investigator considered the harm provision as a whole. There is also no reason articulated in
the Findings Report why or how Ms. Laudati harmed or placed a child at a risk of harm. Similarly
the Findings Report does not set forth any standards or factors to determine what type of conduct
constitutes “not established.” For example, the regulations list a host of factors to be considered in
determining a finding of “substantiated” or “established.” (N.J.A.C. 3A: 10-7.5); but there is no
such guideline concerning the harm provision. Due to the lack of the full definition of “not
established” and the failure to articulate a reason why the child was harmed or placed at a risk of
harm, the investigator’s conclusion seems arbitrary— more like a hunch than a professional
Plaintiff Albert Ray, is a middle school teacher in New Brunswick. (SAC at ¶8; ECF 37).
DCF investigated Mr. Ray for an incident occurred in May 2013 wherein DCF found that the
incident was “not established.” (ECF 62-2 at 1). A student complained that Mr. Ray bruised his
rib. (Id.) Mr. Ray indicated that he pushed the student because the student’s hands were on his
chest. (Id.) Mr. Ray was placed on administrative leave while an investigation into the incident
was undertaken by the DCF investigator. (ECF 62-2 at 2). The DCF investigator’s Findings Report
(Exhibit B) was forwarded to Mr. Kaplan, the Superintendent. (ECF 62-2 at 1, 4). The Findings
Report concluded in pertinent part:
The DCF investigator found the “Physical Abuse/Substantial Risk of
Physical Injury Environment Injurious to Health and Welfare of the Child is not
established.” (ECF 62-2 at 1).
The Findings Report noted this “not established” finding is not disclosed in
a child abuse registry information check; but the record is maintained by DCF. (ECF 62-2
at 1). Furthermore, within the Confidentiality Statement, (see ECF 62-2 at 4), it states that
the documents can be disclosed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10(a);
Within the investigative observation section, no bruises were found on the
child by the school nurse. (ECF 62-2 at 1).
The Findings Report noted the child attempted to push past Mr. Ray as the child
attempted to leave the room, but the child alleges Mr. Ray pushed him twice, causing the
child to fall. (Id.) Ray confirmed that he did make physical contact with the child “but
reported that it was only to move [the child’s] hands away from his chest area,” and did so
in response to the child pushing him. The Findings Report concluded that, “[b]ased on the
information obtained and the physical observations of the child, [the child] is not an abused
child. “however... [the child] was placed at risk of harm by virtue of the incident.” (ECF
62-2 at 2);
Within the recommendations section, Superintendent Kaplan was invited to
supplement the record; but there is nothing within this Findings Report or in the regulation
that affords Mr. Ray the right to refute any additional information that is submitted. (ECF
62-2 at 4);
Under the “additional observations” section, it narrates that several students
who were interviewed complained that Mr. Ray prevented them from leaving the room at
dismissal, causing them to miss their buses (ECF 62-2 at 2). It is unknown whether Mr.
Ray had the right to refute this additional charge or whether this information was relevant
to the findings of the investigator.
Plaintiff Erasmo Carmona was subject to two separate investigations. Mr. Carmona is an
elementary school teacher in New Brunswick, New Jersey. On or about October 28, 2014, DCF
commenced an investigation into allegations of abuse and neglect against him. In the first incident,
a student playfully hit Mr. Carmona on the head, and Mr. Carmona reacted by grabbing the child
in the neck and cheek area. (Exh. A. ECF 62-4). In content of this Findings Report, the investigator
found that the physical abuse/substantial risk of physical environment injurious to health and
welfare of the child is “not established.” (ECF 62-4 at 3). The Findings Report is similar to those
of Ms. Laudati and Mr. Ray, but it has an additional observation section. Within that section, there
are different complaints enumerated about Mr. Carmona that are not related to the child abuse
claim including (1) he used a racial slur to describe a child; (2) he grabbed a child by the shoulders
on two occasions; and 3) he grabbed a staff members’ hand to admire her nails. (ECF 62-4 at 4).
From reading the Findings Report, it does not appear that Mr. Carmona had notice of these three
additional allegations, nor did he have an opportunity to rebut those allegations. Of particular
concern is whether the investigator considered these additional findings in making the “not
established” determination on the child abuse claim.
In the second incident of Mr. Carmona, Mr. Carmona was accused of organizing a game at
gym class, where all the students threw balls at one student. (ECF 62-4 at 6). The student had a
faint red mark on his cheek. (Id.) The DCF’s investigator found that the physical abuse/substantial
risk of physical injury environment injurious to health and welfare of a child as “not established.”
(ECF 62-4 at 6). The content of the DCF’s Findings Report is similar to the ones detailed above;
but there is an additional comments section wherein one statement is of no relevance to the child
abuse claim. Therein it states:
During the course of the investigation, it was reported that para
professional Lissette Ruiz and Private Nurse Roseline Innocent fall
asleep/doze off during gym class.
(ECF 62-4 at 7). This comment does not address the child abuse accusation, and is not relevant to
Carmona’s conduct. The Findings Report does not state whether this comment impacted the
investigator’s evaluation. In the investigative observations section of this Findings Report. the
investigation concluded that “[biased upon the information gathered and the physical observations
of the child. [the child] is not a physically abused child as defined by the statute.” Further, it states
the [DCF’s] findings have not been adjudicated and should not be considered binding or
conclusive. No determination as to the accuracy of the allegations, statements or accounts of the
incident has been made.”
As a result of this Findings Report and other conduct over a period of time, the school
board conducted a hearing and withheld Mr. Carmona’s annual salary increment due to
“inappropriate behavior toward students” during a three year period. (Id.)
In addition to the previously mentioned due process argument, DCF argues that the
Plaintiffs have no injury, and therefore no damages can be awarded. (ECF 63-1 at 34). The proofs
evidencing injury or damages are vague.
For example, Ms. Laudati states that she was
“devastated” by the finding that she harmed or placed a child at risk of harm. (ECF 62-6 at 46:124; 49:2-8). She claims that the finding constructively required her to retire three years earlier than
she wished. At her deposition she stated:
I have been greatly harmed by the actions of DOF.
And. how is that?
And how is that?
I retired prematurely. It had always been my intention to
work until was 67. At the time of this incident, I was in my 31St year
of teaching. I was turning 64 that summer. I am, and was at the
time, in perfect health. I had the highest of evaluations that I was
highly effective in the classroom. My district did not put one letter
- after the event, did not put one letter in my file or discipline me. I
had intended to work until 67. That would have given me three more
years in my pension and Social Security. I have taught for 42 years,
with an unblemished record, with three New Jersey Governor
Teacher State Awards it’s very unusual to have three over a 30year period. It so devastated me that this finding would state that I
had a child harmed or at risk of harm, as defined by that
unestablished finding, that I could not bear to continue teaching.
And to have any paper anywhere that states I put a child—I
harmed a child or put a child at risk of harm greatly offends my
integrity and casts a very definitive shadow over my retirement. I
did not retire with pleasure. I retired with a broken heart.
Ray’s alleged injury is that the “not established” finding, is a constant distraction, and he
is unable to concentrate on his work as intensely as he had before the Findings Report. At his
deposition, he stated:
Okay. You said that you were unable to concentrate on your
work subsequent to the incident in this case, is that correct?
And can you explain what you meant by that’?
Well it was difficult in terms of because I do lesson planning,
things of that nature, I have to work with the kids in class, sometimes
one-on-one, sometimes I have to pull them out, meaning I take them
out of the classroom to work on maybe study skills or reviewing for
a test, so it was difficult to concentrate.
And what made it difficult to concentrate specifically?
Again, the fact that my rights weren’t being--my rights were
being denied and the conclusion that [DCF] had came up with for
the investigation that was going on at the time.
(ECF 62-7 at 27:5-23).
Mr. Carmona, on the other hand, supported DCF’s findings because DCF correctly reported
that the determinations were “not established,” but he believes that the Superintendent’s decision
to withhold his salary was punitive. (SAC at ¶36, ECF 37; see also ECF 62-4 at 9-10).
None of the Plaintiffs argue that the potential disclosure of the findings report interfered or
may interfere with future activities, such as seeking new employment or volunteering for some
Summary judgment is appropriate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) when the moving party
demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving
party’s entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 32223 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non
movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In considering a motion for summary
judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of
the evidence; instead, the non-moving party’s evidence “is to be believed and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir.
2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).
Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the party opposing the motion must
establish that a genuine issue as to a material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Lacey
Twp., 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment
cannot rest on mere allegations and instead must present actual evidence that creates a genuine
issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Siegel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier
Express, Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1130-3 1 (3d Cir. 1995). “[Ulnsupported allegations
are insufficient to repel summary judgment.” Schoch
First Fidelity Bancorp., 912 F.2d 654,
657 (3d Cir. 1990); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (requiring nonmoving party to Aset forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial”).
Moreover, only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under
governing law will preclude the entry ofsummaryjudgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. If a
court determines, after drawing all inferences in favor of [the non-moving partyl, and making all
credibility determinations in his favor “that no reasonable jury could find for him, summary
judgment is appropriate.” Alevras v. Tacopina, 226 Fed. App’x. 222, 227 (3d Cir. 2007).
In reviewing this matter, the Court finds guidance in recent decisions by the Superior Court
of New Jersey, Appellate Division which addressed issues similar to the present one. In Dep’t of
Children & Families v. D.B., 443 N.J. Super. 431 (App. Div. 2015), the Appellate Division
reviewed whether the “not established” Findings Report of two teachers violated due process
because the teacher was not given an opportunity to defend. In the first instance, Defendant A.G.,
a teacher’s aid for an autistic child allegedly hit a five year old child numerous times on his arm
with an open hand; and in the other, a six year-old child stated that Defendant D.B., an art teacher,
allegedly grabbed his arm and scratched him a day before. Id. at 434-35. Due to many factors,
both Defendants’ conduct was categorized as “not established,” but DCF maintained a permanent
record. Consistent to previous decisions by the New Jersey court, the court in D.B. found that “if
a statement that there were allegations that a child was harmed or put at risk of harm is included
within the ‘Investigative Observations’ section of the letters, it must be followed by a disclaimer
giving notice that there was no adjudicatory finding. The disclaimer must state “there has been no
determination of the accuracy of the allegation.” Id. at 446 (citation omitted).
Here, Plaintiffs find the disclaimer set forth in D.B. as unsatisfactory. As such, Plaintiffs’
challenge the regulatory scheme for two main reasons: (1) lack of a hearing or opportunity to
defend, and (2) reputational injury caused by the findings.
New Jersey courts have held that a teacher has no right to a due process hearing to challenge
a “not established” finding because it is not of such a magnitude to warrant an evidentiary hearing.
Generally, the New Jersey Courts held:
[A] teacher is not entitled to an adjudicatory hearing to challenge a finding that
child abuse allegations are not substantiated, even when DYFS has expressed
“concerns” about a teacher’s conduct because such a finding is “intrinsically less
damaging to reputation than a finding that child abuse charges have been
‘substantiated.” “A finding by DYFS that child abuse charges have not been
substantiated, but that there is some indication a child was harmed or placed at risk
of harm, is purely investigatory in nature, with none of the procedural protections
of an adjudicatory proceeding.”
New Jersey Dep ‘t of Children & Families’ Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit v. S.F., 402 N.J.
Super. 255, 270, 953 A.2d 790, 799 (App. Div. 2008). See also N.J Div. of Child Pro!. &
Permanency v. D.S., 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 254,*8 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Feb. 2,
2017) (rejecting Defendants’ contention that they were entitled to an evidentiary hearing so they
could prove they did not harm or place the child at risk because there was no finding that they did
so.) Moreover, the state court found that, even though due process protection extends to personal
reputation without requiring any other tangible loss, this does not mean that “a liberty interest is
implicated anytime a government agency transmits information that may impugn a person’s
reputation.” D.B., 443 N.J. Super. at 443.
As the Appellate Division found in D.B., under the New Jersey Constitution, “due process
is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands. Thus, even
if a person has a constitutionally protected interest, it does not automatically follow that the person
must be afforded opportunity for an adjudicatory hearing.” Id. at 443 (internal citation omitted).
This same standard applies under federal law. Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976) (“Due
process is flexible and allows for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands.”
(quoting Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972).
Notwithstanding this, a certain level of flexibility should be maintained by allowing
teachers some recourse to challenge the wording of the Findings Reports “to avoid an improper
impression conveyed despite the ultimate finding that the charges were unfounded.” In re A. I., 393
N.J. 114, 131, 922 A.2d 817 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. May 21, 2007). In Al. the court held that
“even though the section on “Investigative Findings” states that “[nb adjudicative findings have
the letter should also note that the [DCF]’s findings are not binding or conclusive.”
The Appellate Division in S.F. further emphasized the importance of allowing teachers to
challenge the wording of investigative findings stating,
A teacher against whom a finding has been made by DYFS expressing concern
about the teacher’s conduct “has a due process right to challenge the wording of
such a finding on the ground that it is misleading and unfairly damaging to his
reputation.” “The impact upon a teacher’s reputation of a finding by DYFS
expressing concern about the teacher’s conduct may be significant, especially if it
is accompanied by what appears to be an affirmative finding by DYFS that a teacher
has had improper physical contact with a student.” “The investigatory findings and
‘concerns about the teacher’s conduct,’ warrant ‘some due process protection’ by
judicial review and correction [of the findings] to curb administrative abuses.”
New Jersey Dep’t of Children & Families’ Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit v. S.F., 402 N.J.
Super. 255, 270, 953 A.2d 790, 799 (App. Div. 2008).
In this case, the investigators note within the Findings Reports that none of the alleged
findings have been adjudicated; but based on my common experience, like other records
maintained by State government, the recipient of the Findings Report will give the Findings Report
some credibility, and most likely the recipient will consider it in his/her decision making.
Commons sense dictates that any recipient of a Findings Report with a “not established”
assessment will infer that there was some level of improper conduct, and as a result, he/she will
react negatively to that teacher. As such, the language of the current disclaimer may riot be
sufficient to protect the interest of the teachers. The Findings Reports also do not mention the
accuracy of the allegations, as mentioned in the D.B. opinion; and the reports do not provide the
teachers with an opportunity to challenge the wording or the scope of the Findings Reports prior
to its distribution.
Also, it is unclear whether any standardized procedure was followed in
gathering the information contained in the Findings Reports.
In conclusion, based on the arbitrariness of the Findings Reports, an additional due process
safeguard must be observed beyond the content of the disclaimer set forth in D.B.. That is:
The Findings Report must obviously and conspicuously state that the findings are
only investigatory, and have not been adjudicated; and that there has been no determination as to
the accuracy of the allegations.
Here, the reports included a disclaimer in the text, but the disclaimer is not
conspicuous, not directly communicated to the recipient and did not clearly stress the subjeclivity
of these reports. To remedy same, the disclaimer must be set forth in the header of each page of
the report, and/or in a separate cover sheet to the recipient.
In light of the extraneous comments, and omission of facts that support the
conclusion of the Findings Reports, the Court finds that each Findings Report should be distributed
to the teachers.
The teachers should have the right to comment and/or object to the Findings Report.
The teacher’s objection should be attached to the Findings Report.
A supervisory review is to be conducted to review the veracity and relevance of the
findings. The purpose of this step is to remove all irrelevant and extraneous information from the
Findings Report, such as the identity of the teachers who are “dozing off”, or grabbing the hand of
a coworker to admire her nails.
In addition to the protocols addressed above, the Court finds the following additional
remedies for each Plaintiff
In the case of Ms. Laudati, the Findings Report dated February 5, 2014 (ECF No. 62-2) is
arbitrary for the following reasons:
It fails to set forth any facts to support that the child was “harmed or placed at the
risk of harm”.
It fails to properly define “not established”. By omitting the harm provision, it is
uncertain whether the investigator considered the entire definition.
Ms. Laudati taught in good standing for about 42 years; and it is hard to understand
why that was not considered.
As such, the remedy is that the Findings Report as to Patricia Laudati dated February 4,
2014 (ECF No. 62-2) should be revoked, and/or found to be “unfounded.”
In the case of Mr. Ray, the Findings Report is also arbitrary for the following reasons:
In the Findings Report dated July 12, 2013, the “Additional Observations” section
(ECF No. 62-2) states that “several students reported that Mr. Ray would not allow them to leave
the room at dismissal causing some of them to miss their bus.” This comment is not relevant to
the child abuse claim; and it is unknown if the investigator considered same in his or her
determination of “not established.”
The Findings Report offers the opportunity to the School’s superintendent to
supplement the Findings Report. Mr. Ray is not afforded such an opportunity. A teacher should
have the same right to supplement or rebut the Findings Report.
As such, the remedy is that the statement set forth in the July 12, 2013 Findings Report,
Additional Observations” section (ECF No. 62-2) (paragraph 1 above) should be redacted arid
the investigator should reassess her findings. In addition, Mr. Ray should be given an opportunity
to rebut the findings. Lastly, a supervisory review must be conducted to assure veracity and
relevance of the Findings Report.
Mr. Carmona is subject to Findings Reports which are arbitrary for the following reasons:
In the first Findings Report dated December 23, 2014, the “Additional Observation”
section (Ex. A to ECF No. 62-4) states that: (a) “A staff and an administrator reported that Mr.
Carmona called a student of African descent a racial slur”; (b) “Another student said Mr. Carmona
grabbed [a child] by the shoulder on two occasions to put them in time out”; and (c) An
administrator reported that “a staff member stated that Mr. Carmona grabbed her hand and admired
her nails which made her feel uncomfortable.” The relevance of these comments to the child abuse
claim is questionable; and one cannot determine if the investigator gave these comments
significant consideration in determining “not established.”
In the second Findings Report dated February 4, 2016, the “Additional
Observation” section (Ex. B to ECF no. 62-4) states that “[d]uring the course of the investigation,
it was reported that para-professional Lissette Ruiz and Private Nurse Roseline Innocent fall
asleep/doze off during gym class”. This comment does not directly relate to the child abuse claim;
and there is no correlation of how this observation impacts the conduct of Mr. Carmona.
As such. the reasonable remedy is that the three comments in the “Additional Observation”
section (Ex. A to ECF No. 62-4) (paragraph I above) should be redacted, and the investigator
should reassess the Findings Report. With regard to the “Additional Observation” section
(Ex. B to ECF no. 62-4) (paragraph 2 above), the comment should also be redacted and the
investigator should reassess the Findings Report. Mr. Carmona should be given an opportunity to
rebut each Findings Report. In addition, a supervisory review must be conducted to assure the
veracity and relevance of the Findings Reports.
Based on the above findings, Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment is denied in part,
and granted in part. Defendant’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.
This matter having come before the Court on Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment
(ECF No. 62) and Defendant’s cross-motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 63) and for the
reasons set forth above, and for good cause having been shown;
IT IS on this
day of April, 2018;
ORDERED that Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in
part; and it is further,
ORDERED that the February 25, 2014 Findings Report as to Patricia Laudati (ECF 62-3)
is revoked, and/or found to be “unfounded;” and it is further
ORDERED that as to the July 12, 2013 Findings Report of Albert Ray, (ECF No. 62-2)
the statement in the “Additional Observations” section is to be redacted and the investigator
should reassess her findings. In addition, Mr. Ray should be given an opportunity to rebut the
Findings Report. A supervisory review must be conducted to assure veracity and relevance of
the Findings Report; and it is further
ORDERED that as to the December 23, 2014 Findings Report of Erasmo Carmona (Ex.
A to ECF No. 62-4), the “Additional Observations” section is to be redacted, and an investigator
should reassess the Findings Report. Mr. Carmona should be given an opportunity to rebut the
Findings Report. A supervisory review must be conducted to assure veracity and relevance of
the Findings Report; and it is further
ORDERED that as to the February 4, 2017 Findings Report of Erasmo Carmona (Ex. B
to ECF No. 62-4), the “Additional Observations” section is to be redacted, and investigator
should reassess the Findings Report. In addition, Mr. Carmona should be given an opportunity
to rebut the Findings Report. A supervisory review must be conducted to assure veracity and
relevance of the Findings Report; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiffs’ and Defendant’s counsel shall confer, and submit a conspicuous
disclaimer to be inserted on the Findings Reports of Plaintiffs Albert Ray and Erason Carmona, or
alternatively, included in the cover page if and when a Findings Report is forwarded to a third
party recipient; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendant, Allison Blake, Commissioner of the State of New Jersey’s
Department of Children and Families Cross-Motion (ECF No. 63) is denied.
PETER 0. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.
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