When a party to litigation files an action or asserts an affirmative defense to an action which he knows has no basis in law or in fact, the adverse party may serve notice pursuant to the Frivolous Litigation statute seeking withdrawal of the frivolous pleading within 30 days or an award of sanctions will be sought. See, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59.1. The requirements to seek sanctions for frivolous litigation can be found in Court Rule 1:4-8.
So, one must wonder: Can Frivolous Litigation sanctions be sought against the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) when it asserts a knowingly unsupportable position to achieve temporary custody, or worse, to ratify a Dodd removal (i.e., a removal performed with no court order)?
The short answer is Yes, but courts are not likely to enter sanctions against the Division for many reasons:
- If DCPP pays out money to recompense parents for its wrongdoing, those funds will not bd available to help other families genuinely in need of services.
- The time, effort and cost involved in unearthing a “knowing falsehood”, rather than an inadvertent one, disincentivizes courts to allow exploration of the issue in pending court actions, and filing a new court action creates all sorts of problems with confidentiality.
- Most judges are not willing to say that s/he erred by believing the Division, which is almost universally done in removal hearings. Doing so would undermine the court’s ability to give deference at the start of a case (which will make decision-making that much harder and more time-consuming).
So, should you seek sanctions against the Division, with this great likelihood of being unsuccessful? Absolutely!
Unless and until the court is presented with a compelling pattern of egregious overstepping by the agency, as demonstrated through aggressive applications by wronged parents, errors on the part of the agency will continue to appear as misguided efforts to protect children, rather than part and parcel of a pattern of abuse by the agency guided by its culture of ill-conceived arrogance about parenting and families.
Rome was not built in a day. Similarly, upending the culture of overreaching by the Division will not occur in a day. We must be ever mindful of the need to battle this culture, and the frivolous litigation statute is one way of doing that.
If you or someone you know has been the subject of a wrongful custody action or removal of a child by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (i.e., DCPP/DYFS), please contact us to Schedule a Consultation to discuss how we can help.