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Natasha B. v. Department of Children and Families

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 23, 2019

NATASHA B.
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES[*]

          Argued January 14, 2019

         Procedural History

         Administrative appeal from the decision by a hearing officer of the defendant upholding a substantiation of a finding of physical abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect by the plaintiff against a minor child and placing the plaintiff's name on the defendant's child abuse and neglect central registry, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury, where the matter was transferred to the judicial district of New Britain and tried to the court, Huddleston, J.; judgment dismissing the appeal, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Dale R. Funk, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          John E. Tucker, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, former attorney general, and Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (defendant).

          Sheldon, Keller and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          BEAR, J.

         The plaintiff, Natasha B., appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing her appeal from the decision of a hearing officer of the defendant, the Department of Children and Families (department), who upheld the department's decision to substantiate allegations of physical abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect by the plaintiff against a minor child and to place the plaintiff's name on its child abuse and neglect central registry (central registry). On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly concluded that (1) a finding of chronicity was not required to place the plaintiff's name on the central registry, and (2) the hearing officer did not improperly shift the burden of proof to the plaintiff to demonstrate changed conditions that would justify removal of her name from the central registry. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found by the hearing officer, and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff was employed as a ‘‘one to one'' worker for a thirteen year old minor child, C, at a residential treatment facility. On July 13, 2007, C was sent to her room after she and other residents began throwing chairs. C attempted to leave her room by forcing open the door while the plaintiff held the door shut from outside the room. After C forced open the door, the plaintiff pushed C back into the room, where a physical struggle ensued. During the struggle, the plaintiff repeatedly struck C in the face with a closed fist before other staff members separated the plaintiff and C. C was subsequently transported to the hospital after sustaining scratches and bruises to her face. As a result of the incident, the plaintiff was terminated from her position and was charged with risk of injury to a child and assault in the third degree. The charges against the plaintiff were dismissed in 2009 after she satisfied the conditions required for her accelerated rehabilitation.

         After its investigation of the incident, the department substantiated allegations of physical abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect by the plaintiff against C[1] and placed the plaintiff's name on its central registry. See General Statutes (Rev. to 2007) §§ 17a-101g and 17a-101k.[2] On January 26, 2015, [3] the plaintiff, after being told by a prospective employer that her name was on the central registry, wrote a letter to the department seeking to remove her name from the central registry.[4]After receipt of the letter, the department scheduled a substantiation hearing. At the hearing, the plaintiff, who initially represented herself, testified about the 2007 incident with C and asserted that, since the incident, she had completed court-mandated counseling and community service and that she had not been involved in any other incidents with minor children.

         On February 23, 2015, the hearing officer issued a notice to both parties, stating that additional testimony and evidence was required to determine whether the plaintiff's name should remain on the central registry. Specifically, the notice informed the parties that they should be prepared to present evidence regarding whether the plaintiff had demonstrated changed conditions since the incident. Moreover, the hearing officer stated that specific documentation was needed from the plaintiff regarding her claims of completion of community service and counseling requirements, her job history, and confirmation that she had no further incidents with a minor child. The second day of the hearing took place on May 17, 2016.[5]

         In her written final decision, the hearing officer upheld the department's decision to substantiate the allegations against the plaintiff for physical abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect of C and to place her name on the central registry. The plaintiff appealed to the trial court, which affirmed the decision of the hearing officer and dismissed the appeal.[6] The plaintiff then appealed to this court. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         The plaintiff first claims that the court improperly concluded that a finding of chronicity[7] was not required to place the plaintiff's name on the central registry. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that, because the hearing officer made an explicit finding that there was ...


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