Friday, September 18, 2009

child abuse - expungement - credibility - burden/standard of proof

Dauphin Co. CYS v. DPW - September 18, 2009 - unreported memorandum opinion

The court affirmed the DPW order directing expungement of an indicated report of abuse. The case involved the alleged sexual abuse of a 16 year-old female student by her male driver education teacher. The case was decided (both by the ALJ and the Secretary, on appeal) based on the transcript in the related criminal case, in which the alleged abuser was found to be not guilty.

The ALJ found the alleged victim to be credible. The DPW Secretary reversed that finding. The court rejected CYS's argument on this issue, noting the the "Supreme Court has held that the Secretary of Public Welfare or her designee is the ultimate fact finder in expungement proceedings, with the authority to make credibility determinations. C.K. v. DPW, 869 A.2d 48, 57 n.9 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005) (citing R. v. DPW, 535 Pa. 440, 446, 636 A.2d 142, 154 (1994)). Accordingly, the County’s argument that the Secretary lacked authority to reverse the ALJ’s credibility determinations lacks merit. Further, the parties agreed to have the Bureau decide J.F.’s appeal based exclusively on the transcript of the related criminal trial. The remand hearing requested by the County would give it the proverbial second bite at the apple."

Burden/Standard of proof
The court also affirmed the finding that CYS failed to meet its burden of proof, noting that "the numerous inconsistencies in [alleged victim's] testimony and the evidence presented by [the alleged abuser] support the Secretary’s conclusion that [the alleged victim's] testimony was not credible. In an expungement case, the County bears the burden of proving that the actions of the perpetrator constitute child abuse within the meaning of the statute. C.F. v. DPW, 804 A.2d 755, 757 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002).

"For the County to succeed, it was required to present “evidence which so preponderates in favor of a conclusion that it outweighs, in the mind of the factfinder, any inconsistent evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom.” C.K., 869 A.2d at 52 n.6." The court noted that the alleged victim's testimony at the preliminary hearing and trial was "laced with inconsistencies involving, inter alia, the identity of the perpetrator, the location and timing of the alleged assault and whether her attacker ejaculated."

"In sum, the Secretary’s conclusion that [the alleged victim's] testimony lacked credibility supported her conclusion that the County failed to meet its burden of proof."