Matthew M. v. Department of Children and Families
The Department of Children and Families need not explicitly identify the adverse impact note found in the section on "physical neglect" in §34-2-7 of its policy manual for the hearing officer to rely on it in determining neglect. Matthew M. appealed from the trial court's judgment dismissing his administrative appeal from the decision of the Department of Children and Families, upholding the substantiation of the finding of physical neglect as to his daughter, M. The finding arose from allegations that the plaintiff ran outside after his wife struck a vehicle window with a baseball bat, placed M in another vehicle unrestrained and sped toward his wife. On appeal, the plaintiff claimed, first, that he was denied due process when the hearing officer improperly amended the department's allegations and based his decision on an allegation of physical neglect on which the department had not relied. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The gravamen of the plaintiff's argument was that because the department's disclosure of the ground for physical neglect of M, found in the "physical neglect" section in §34-2-7 of the department's policy manual, did not include the "Note" pertaining to adverse impact detailed at the end of the section, the hearing officer improperly amended the allegations to include the adverse impact note in violation of his due process rights. However, because several of the grounds that would support a substantiation of physical neglect include a finding of adverse impact, when reading the section as a whole, the proper interpretation is that the adverse impact note is a part of the definition and need not be explicitly identified in the department's descriptions of the grounds relied on to substantiate an allegation of physical neglect. Substantial evidence supported the hearing officer's conclusion that the plaintiff's actions constituted a serious disregard for M's welfare and it was of no import that the department previously reversed the substantiation of emotional neglect of M. The court did not err in finding that the plaintiff was not prejudiced by the department's failure to follow its directives and had not done its due diligence in attempting to contact the plaintiff who left the state to live with his parents. The burden was on the plaintiff to prove prejudice.