In most circumstances, New Jersey law provides both civil and criminal immunity to those who make reports of suspected child abuse to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). However, in the recently published case of E.W. v. W. M-H., the Court found that the immunity does not apply in domestic violence cases.
In E.W. v. W. M-H., the Defendant obtained tens of thousands of dollars from the Plaintiff, claiming that he was a government assassin. The parties’ relationship ended after approximately one month. The Plaintiff filed a criminal complaint against the Defendant, and sued for the return of her money.
The day after he was served with the Complaint, the Defendant made a child abuse referral to DCPP, who commenced an investigation into Plaintiff’s use of marijuana in the presence of her child. Finding that Defendant’s contact with DCPP was in retaliation for Plaintiff’s Complaints, the trial court looked at the legislative history of the DCPP immunity stature, and held that:
“To apply the immunity statute in the context of domestic violence would legalize the weaponization of DCPP referrals as a mechanism of harassment, which would further victimize children as being exposed to such acts of domestic violence.”
Thus, the trial court ruled that the DCPP immunity statute is “… inapplicable in the realm of domestic violence as it would render an absurd result.” The trial court found that Defendant had made the DCPP referral in retaliation for Plaintiff’s lawsuits against him, and therefore had proved a predicate act of harassment. However, as there was insufficient evidence to support the entry of a Final Restraining Order, the trial court denied the application and vacated the Temporary Restraining Order.
While the Plaintiff in E.W. v. W. M-H. failed to obtain a Final Restraining Order, the trial court’s decision significantly helps parents who have been subjected to false, retaliatory DCPP referrals. E.W. v. W. M-H. makes it clear that retaliatory DCPP referrals constitute harassment, and are not protected by the DCPP immunity statute. If a sufficient prior history of domestic violence exists, a Final Restraining Order is warranted.