Phillip B. v. Ariz. Dept’t of Child Safety – 6/14/2022

July 8, 2022

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that the Department of Child Safety may add an individual’s name on the Central Registry only when an administrative law judge finds probable cause of abuse or neglect and the Department’s Director accepts the finding.

The Department of Child Safety’s Protective Service Review Team investigated a caregiver at a group home after he had a confrontation with a minor resident.  The Team found probable cause that the caregiver had abused the minor and recommended the Department add the caregiver’s name to the Central Registry, which archives “substantiated” instances of child abuse and neglect.  The caregiver requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  After considering the evidence, the ALJ found there was no probable cause to substantiate the allegations of abuse.  The Director of the Department, however, reviewed the ALJ’s decision and decided to substantiate the allegations of abuse, and ordered that the caregiver’s name be placed on the Registry.

The caregiver requested judicial review of the Department’s decision and argued, among other things, that the Director acted beyond his authority when he placed the caregiver’s name on the Registry.  The superior court affirmed the Department’s decision.

The Court of Appeals reversed.  The court held that the Department’s rules allow entry in the Registry only when an ALJ finds probable cause of abuse or neglect and the Director accepts that decision.  The court reached this conclusion by analyzing the Department’s regulations, particularly its definition of “substantiated finding.”  It concluded that a finding may be “substantiated” only under three circumstances, none of which were present.  Therefore, the Director acted beyond its authority when it added the caregiver’s name to the Registry, and the court ordered the removal of the name from the Registry.

Judge Williams authored the opinion, in which Judges Gass and Morse joined.

Posted by: Annabel Barraza