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Junek v. St. Mary's County Department of Social Services

Court of Appeals of Maryland

June 25, 2019

JOHN JUNEK
v.
ST. MARY'S COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

          Argued: May 6, 2019

          Circuit Court for St. Mary's County Case No. 18-C-16-001199

          Barbera, C.J., McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Booth, Harrell, Glenn T., Jr., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          HOTTEN, J.

         Petitioner, John Junek, [1] seeks reversal of an Administrative Law Judge's finding that Mr. Junek was responsible for indicated child neglect under Maryland Code, Family Law Article § 5-701(s). Mr. Junek poses the following question for our review: "Is intent or scienter an element of child neglect under Md. Code. Ann., Family Law ("Fam. Law") § 5-701(s)?" For the reasons outlined below, we answer Mr. Junek's question in the negative, and affirm the Administrative Law Judge's finding of indicated child neglect.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Factual Background

         The underlying facts of this case are not in dispute. On September 3, 2014, Mr. Junek was responsible for taking his older son to preschool and younger son to daycare before going to work.[2] Mr. Junek first dropped his older son off at preschool. However, instead of dropping off his younger son at daycare, Mr. Junek drove directly to his workplace at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Mr. Junek arrived at work just before 9:00 a.m., parked his car, overlooked his 17-month-old son in the backseat of the car, and went into work. At about 3:20 p.m. that afternoon, Mr. Junek received a phone call from his wife who had arrived at the daycare center to pick up their younger son. Ms. Junek was unable to find her younger son's car seat that Mr. Junek was supposed to leave at the daycare that morning, and called Mr. Junek to inquire as to its whereabouts. It was then, for the first time that day, that Mr. Junek realized he had forgotten to drop his younger son off at daycare, and left the toddler in the backseat of the vehicle.

         Mr. Junek went immediately to his car, where he found his younger son strapped into his car seat, "unconscious, unresponsive, and not breathing." Mr. Junek, with the help of a nurse who was passing by the car at the time, performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the child and called emergency services. Attempts to revive the child failed, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The outside temperature that day had reached a high of 85 degrees. The

         Investigation and Administrative Hearing

         Respondent, the St. Mary's County Department of Social Services ("the Department") initiated an investigation into the above events. At the conclusion of its investigation, the Department notified Mr. Junek that it had rendered a finding of "indicated child neglect[]" against him. Mr. Junek challenged the Department's finding and requested a hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on June 23, 2016 regarding Mr. Junek's appeal of the neglect finding.[3] After the hearing, the ALJ concluded that the Department "ha[d] established by a preponderance of the evidence that the finding of indicated child neglect [was] supported by credible evidence and [was] consistent with the law." In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ commented that "there is no intent requirement under section 5-701(s)[, ]" and that no such requirement appears in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 07.02.07.12 (Child Neglect Disposition). Mr. Junek filed a Petition for Judicial Review in the Circuit Court for St. Mary's County. A hearing was conducted by Judge David Densford, who subsequently affirmed the ALJ's decision and accompanying legal conclusions. The Court of Special Appeals

         Mr. Junek filed a timely notice of appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, presenting the single issue of whether "'neglect' under § 5-701(s) of the Family Law Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland require[s] proof of an element of scienter?" J.J. v. St. Mary's Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., No. 2038, 2018 WL 6839467, slip op. at *1 (Dec. 31, 2018) (emphasis in original). Applying its recent holding in I.B. v. Frederick Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 239 Md.App. 556, 197 A.3d 598 (2018), the Court of Special Appeals concluded "that a finding of indicated neglect under the statutory provisions of Section 5-701 et seq., of the Family Law Article, does not require intent[.]" Id. at *4. The Court compared the definition of "abuse" and the definition of "neglect" in the Family Law Article, explaining that "[t]he General Assembly, in 2017, amended the definition of abuse to include intent as an element by excluding 'the physical injury of a child by accidental means[]'" from the definition of abuse, while not making any such amendment to the definition of neglect. Id. (citing 2017 Maryland Laws, Chapter 652).

         Mr. Junek filed a timely petition for certiorari before this Court, requesting that we consider whether the definition of child neglect under § 5-701(s) of the Family Law Article requires proof of the element of intent. We granted certiorari accordingly to address this issue. Junek v. St. Mary's Cty. Dep't Soc. Servs., 463 Md. 146, 204 A.3d 189 (2019).

         STANDARD ...


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