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I.B. v. Frederick County Department of Social Services

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

November 29, 2018


          Circuit Court for Frederick County Case No. 10-C-16-000236

          Woodward, C.J., Reed, Sharer, J. Frederick (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ. [*]


          Sharer, J.

         Appellant, I.B.[1], seeks reversal of an order of the Circuit Court for Frederick County affirming the grant of summary decision, entered by an Administrative Law Judge, finding an "indication of child neglect" sought by the Frederick County Department of Social Services (DSS), appellee. In his timely appeal, I.B., questions: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to support a summary decision by the ALJ; (2) the failure of the ALJ to hold a hearing on his motion; and (3) whether intent is a requisite element of neglect under Maryland Code (1984, 2012 Repl. Vol., 2015 Supp.), Family Law Article (FL) § 5-701.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         The underlying facts are not in dispute. In July 2015, I.B. took his children to church, unintentionally leaving his infant daughter in her car seat in the back of the car, on a hot day with the front windows slightly open. Authorities were called, who removed the child from the car. I.B. acknowledged that, while attending to the other children, he had forgotten that his daughter was in the car. The incident was reported to DSS, which initiated an investigation, ultimately making a finding of indicated[3] child neglect.[4] I.B. requested a contested case hearing pursuant to FL § 5-706.1(b)(1), but, as provided by the statute, that proceeding was stayed pending the outcome of the pending criminal case, in which I.B. was charged with neglect of a minor[5] and confinement of a minor in an unattended vehicle.[6] The State nol prossed the child neglect charge and I.B. pleaded guilty to confinement of a minor, a misdemeanor, subjecting the offender to both a monetary fine and imprisonment. He was afforded probation before judgment.[7]

         Following disposition of the criminal charges, the stay was lifted in the family law proceeding. DSS moved for summary decision to dismiss the request for hearing based on the finding of guilt in the criminal proceeding, pursuant to FL § 5-706.1(b)(3)(ii). I.B. opposed the summary decision on the ground that the criminal charge was not similar to the family law neglect offense and that the criminal court did not find him guilty of neglect. The ALJ issued a summary decision granting DSS's motion, relying on the fact that I.B. (1) failed to dispute any evidence that the finding of indicated neglect was based on the same incident as the guilty plea charge, [8] and (2) the provisions of FL § 5-706.1(b)(3)(ii).[9]

         ALJ's Findings and Decision

         The ALJ's decision on the motion for summary decision was fully developed and supported in its written decision, but did not detail the sufficiency of the DSS's finding of "indicated neglect." Rather, the ALJ focused on what was undisputed and relevant to the question of whether dismissal of the administrative appeal was appropriate. The ALJ found:

1. On July 27 [sic], 2015, the Local Department [DSS] received a report of an unattended child found alone within a car at 9:30 a.m. The car with the unattended child inside was parked at [I.B.'s] family church parking lot.
2. The unattended child found inside the car is the biological child of [I.B.].
3. The unattended child resided with [I.B.], [its] biological mother and siblings.
4. On August 12, 2015, the Local Department notified [I.B.] that it made a finding of indicated child neglect of the unattended child.
5. On September 22, 2015, the District Court for Frederick County, Maryland found [I.B.] guilty and convicted him for confining an unattended child, pursuant to Md. Code Ann., Family Law § 5-801 (2012). [I.B.] was sentenced to probation before judgment, with supervised probation ending on September 22, 2016.

         Based on those factual findings and the lack of evidence to the contrary, the ALJ determined that

the undisputed evidence shows that [I.B.] was found guilty of a criminal charge that arose out of the incident of July 26, 2015. The undisputed evidence also shows that the Local Department's finding of indicated neglect was based upon the same incident. Family Law section 5-801; Family Law 5-706.1(b)(3)(ii) (2012 Rpl. Vol.). I find, therefore, as a matter of law, that the Local Department's motion for summary decision must be granted. COMAR

         I.B. sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which was affirmed by the circuit court.

         Appellant's Questions

         I.B. presents three questions for our review of the ALJ's dismissal of the administrative appeal of the finding of "indicated" child neglect. First, I.B. challenges the sufficiency of the factual record to support the ALJ's grant of the summary decision. Second, he questions whether Maryland law requires a hearing to be held when one of the requisite elements for a finding of abuse or neglect is contested, and when the element in question was not adjudicated in the related criminal proceeding. Finally, I.B. asks this Court to determine whether an implied element of intent or scienter, found by case law in the related child abuse statute of the Family Law Article, exists in the neglect statute of that same article.

         Standard of Review

         We have recently explained the appropriate standard for reviewing agency decisions:

It is "[b]ecause an appellate court reviews the agency decision under the same statutory standards as the circuit court," Consumer Prot. Div. v. George, [383 Md. 505, 512] (2004) (quotations and citation omitted), that "we analyze the agency's decision, not the [circuit] court's ruling." Martin v. Allegany County Bd. of Educ., [212 Md.App. 596');">212 Md.App. 596, 605] (2013) (citation omitted). We are "'limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the agency's findings and conclusions, and to determine if the administrative decision is premised upon an erroneous conclusion of law.'" W.R. Grace & Co. v. ...

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