A devastated family in Morris County, New Jersey hired attorney Cheryl A. Garber to represent them in a lawsuit against a retired NYC police offer who decided to make a false report of child abuse against a mother of two young children, one with special needs, to the Division of Child Protection & Permanency (“DCPP”), a New Jersey State Agency, after planning to do so for over a year. Not for any legitimate reason, but rather out of malice, because he didn’t like her and because he thought he could get away with it by virtue of anonymous reporting.
Defamation: Using DCPP as a weapon doesn’t work
New Jersey has mandatory reporting for child abuse cases and imposes a penalty for individuals failing to report legitimate cases of suspected child abuse. But in this case, the evidence proved to the jury that not only did the child abuse and drug use not happen but the Defendant who made the Call to DCPP, lied in his statements during the Call. Including, where he lived, his allegation that he did not know the family, his allegation that his kids shared the same bus stop when he lived 18 miles away, and his allegation that the child alleged to have been abused was even at a bus stop, when that child never even took the bus but rather was driven to school.
Public Defamation: Winning against all odds
Defeating multiple, significant legal hurdles, Cheryl A. Garber, Esq. obtained a unanimous jury verdict in favor of her client, proving Public Defamation by clear and convincing evidence and obtaining punitive damages against Defendant for making a false report of child abuse and drug use against Plaintiff to DCPP.
It is highly unusual to obtain the file of a report made to DCPP, but Garber Law argued and met the legal standard to obtain the file of this otherwise anonymous report of child abuse and drug use, given the circumstances of this case.
Defamation cases are renowned difficult cases to prove at a preponderance of the evidence legal standard, and Garber Law proved this case by the elevated clear and convincing evidence legal standard, given the Court’s ruling that this was public -as opposed to- private defamation because it involved child abuse, a public concern.
DCPP: Malice does not provide immunity
Mid-trial, Defendant attempted to argue that he had reasonable cause to believe that Plaintiff committed child abuse, which was an absolute privilege under the statute and therefore his malice in making his call to DCPP could not be argued to the jury. However, Garber Law convinced the Court that while many states have absolute immunity for false reports of child abuse, New Jersey is not one of them, and only has a qualified immunity – in other words, the immunity only applies if the Defendant had reasonable cause to believe – and thus his malice in making such Call was properly presented to the jury. The jury found that Defendant had no reasonable cause to believe.
Defamation: Insurance doesn’t pay if your acts were intentional and malicious
The applicable insurance policy excluded the intentional and malicious acts of Defendant as set forth in the Jury Verdict, which included punitive damages.
Defamation: Punitive Damages Award
The jury found that the Plaintiff proved, again by clear and convincing evidence, that Defendant did not have reasonable cause to believe the Plaintiff committed an act of child abuse when he made his Call to DCPP.
Finally, punitive damages, which are awarded to punish and deter a defendant’s behavior, are doled out infrequently.