Monday, May 04, 2009

abuse - expungement - proof of identity - collateral proceedings - standard of proof

C.S. v. DPW - Cmwlth. Court - May 1, 2009

Welfare authorities in an expungement appeal could not rely on evidence in a dependency case to prove that appellants-parents abused their child, when the evidence in the dependency case was only "prima facie evidence that the parents were the abusers."

The court distinguished J.G. v. DPW, 795 A.2d 1089 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002), where the identity of the perpetrator was established in a separate court proceeding, and clarified its opinion in K.R. v. DPW, 950 A2d 1069, 1072 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008) to make clear that where "a founded report is based upon a judicial adjudication in a non-criminal proceeding, such as a dependency action, in which the court enters a finding that the child was abused, but does not issue a corresponding finding that the named perpetrator was responsible for the abuse, a named perpetrator is entitled to an administrative appeal before the secretary to determine whether the underlying adjudication of child abuse supports a ‘founded report’ of abuse."

The court also noted the different between dependency and expungement actions. In dependency cases, CYS needs to establish the fact of abuse by clear and convincing evidence, but the identity on the alleged abuser only by prima facie evidence.

"By contrast, in expungement proceedings, the county agency or DPW has the burden of proving by substantial evidence that the alleged perpetrator's conduct falls within one of the definitions of child abuse set forth in Section 6303(b)(1) of the CPSL....Section 6303(a) of the CPSL defines an "indicated report" as a child abuse report based on a determination by the county agency or the Department that, "substantial evidence of the alleged abuse exists." 23 Pa. C.S. § 6303(a).

For the purpose of an expungement proceeding, substantial evidence is "[e]vidence which outweighs inconsistent evidence and which a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Thus, the standard for determining the identity of a perpetrator in dependency matters is a significantly lower burden of proof than in expungement proceedings. The different burdens of proof set forth for the proceedings highlight the fundamentally different purposes that dependency proceedings and expungement proceedings serve." (emphasis added)

Note: The use of term "substantial evidence" in the statute is confusing and misleading. The definition is virtually the same as "preponderance of the evidence." "A preponderance of the evidence is defined as "the greater weight of the evidence, i.e., to tip a scale slightly is the criteria or requirement for preponderance of the evidence." Raker v. Raker, 847 A.2d 720, 724 (Pa.Super. 2004)

In fact, there is a strong argument that since expungement cases involve the fundamental right of reputation under Article I, sec. 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the standard of proof should be clear and convincing. As the majority noted, the "CPSL is geared more towards reporting perpetrators of abuse, which may adversely affect a perpetrator’s reputation and employment opportunities. A.Y. v. Department of Public Welfare, 537 Pa. 116, 125 n.7, 641 A.2d 1148, 1152 n.7 (1994); 23 Pa. C.S. § 6338(a).

As the Supreme Court in A.Y. explained, "Although less process is due in an administrative proceeding than where criminal charges have been brought, an administrative adjudication of suspected child abuse is of the most serious nature. Therefore, this society, which was founded upon, inter alia, its citizens' ‘inherent and indefeasible rights . . . of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation,’ cannot blithely surrender those rights in the name of prosecutorial convenience." A.Y., 537 Pa. at 124, 641 A.2d at 1152.... Thus, the higher standard of proof required in an expungement proceeding to prove the identity of a perpetrator is reasonable in light of his "inherent and indefeasible rights" which may be negatively affected."