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Leaving a child unattended in a car or a house is negligent conduct. However, the Supreme Court of New Jersey has emphasized that whether a parent's conduct is negligent or grossly negligent requires an evaluation of the totality of the circumstances. Such an evaluation can only occur through a hearing.
In May 2009, E.D.-O. left her sleeping nineteen-month-old child unattended for approximately ten minutes in a locked motor vehicle with the motor running. E.D.-O. was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of her child. She later was released, and the police referred the matter to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. The Division filed a complaint against E.D.-O. and her husband, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 to -8.73, seeking care and supervision of their four children. E.D.-O. then filed with the Division an appeal of the substantiation of neglect finding and requested an administrative hearing, which was denied. The Division Director averred that E.D.-O. failed to identify a contested fact that required an evidentiary hearing. The Appellate Division affirmed the final agency decision substantiating neglect, and further held that a hearing in the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) was unnecessary because E.D.-O.'s actions plainly constituted gross neglect.
Under the circumstances, should the Division have referred E.D.-O.'s appeal to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing?
The Court held that N.J.S.A. § 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(b) required a finding that the parent's conduct presented an imminent risk of harm to the child at the time of the event that triggered the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency's (Division's) intervention. According to the Court, the determination of whether a parent's conduct was negligent or grossly negligent required an evaluation of the totality of the circumstances, which can only occur through a hearing. Thus, in this case, the Court held that the Division should have referred the mother's appeal for a hearing