NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES VS. C.H. AND M.B. IN THE MATTER OF J.B.A-5642-09T2
The trial judge sua sponte dismissed a DYFS abuse or neglect complaint in the interim between the close of its presentation of evidence and the scheduled return date for defense witness testimony, without notice to the parties or an opportunity to be heard. The case arose out of the ingestion of about thirty prescription pills by a toddler while he was solely supervised by his mother C.H., resulting in a severe medication overdose, hospitalization, and, fortunately, full recovery.
DYFS and Law Guardian argue the sua sponte dismissal deprived them of due process rights, was based on an improper legal analysis, and was erroneous, as DYFS had established a prima facie case. We agree that the court erred procedurally and substantively with respect to C.H., and reverse and remand for continuation of the fact-finding hearing. We affirm dismissal of the complaint against the father as it was entered following an oral motion and argument by counsel.
We also hold the court did not properly consider the policy considerations of G.S. v. Dept of Human Services and its progeny and focus on the risks posed, the harm to the child, and whether the harm could have been prevented by a cautionary act on C.H.'s part. The court also failed to apply the correct standard for involuntary dismissal under Rule 4:37-2(b), and improperly concluded that DYFS failed to present a prima facie case of abuse and neglect as to C.H. 08-23-12