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J.C. v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

February 27, 2019

J.C. APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SIXTH DIVISION [NO. 60CV-17-3366] HONORABLE TIMOTHY DAVIS FOX, JUDGE.

          Jeff Rosenzweig, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Judge.

         J.C. appeals the Pulaski County Circuit Court's order affirming the administrative decision that he had committed sexual abuse of a minor and that his name should be placed on the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry.[1] J.C. argues that the agency's decision is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         On August 23, 2013, a report was made to the child-abuse hotline regarding the alleged maltreatment of C.K., born September 23, 1998. After an investigation by the Arkansas Department of Human Service (DHS), a finding of child maltreatment was entered against J.C., who timely requested a hearing. The hearing was stayed due to pending criminal charges against J.C. related to the alleged abuse of C.K., but those charges were nolle prossed. An administrative hearing was held on November 29, 2016. C.K. did not appear, but two videotaped recordings of her interviews with investigators and her written statement were admitted as evidence. C.K. alleged that while she and J.C. were alone with her in his locked classroom, J.C. put his hand down her pants and touched her underneath her underwear on her private area. She also said that he had kissed her. He later asked her forgiveness and told her he had been praying about it.

         Suzanne Harris, an investigator with the Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) of the Arkansas State Police, testified that she investigated C.K.'s allegations and spoke with her in a recorded interview. C.K. told Harris that she would have lunch in J.C.'s classroom and that he once had tickled her. She said that they had gone to the River Market together during lunch. C.K. told Harris that J.C. had touched her on her "lady area" and on her butt. In her written statement, C.K. stated that J.C. had put his hands inside her panties and said he wanted to feel her once. Harris testified that it was not uncommon for children to delay disclosing sexual abuse or sexual contact. She said that the basis for her true finding of sexual contact was that after an in-depth interview with C.K. and reviewing C.K.'s written statement, Detective Trent of the Little Rock Police Department sought an arrest warrant. Harris stated, "We can't go against law enforcement." She also said that after the charges had been dropped, her "attitude toward the case" did not change. She said that child-maltreatment law is different than criminal law. Harris said that C.K.'s shoplifting charge over the "intervening weekend" had no bearing on her true finding for sexual contact.

         Harris said that she spoke to Ms. Rook, who works at C.K.'s school. Ms. Rook told Harris that J.C. had talked to her about C.K. being upset with him for giving her a "B." He had told Rook that C.K. wanted to start a book club and that she had been texting him. Rook also said that J.C. had stated that he and C.K. had lunch together in his classroom; Rook had told him that doing so was not a good idea; and J.C. wanted to argue over the issue.

         Harris said that she had talked to J.C., who denied an interview but told her he believed C.K.'s allegation was in retaliation for a grade of "86" that he had given her. Harris also talked to C.K.'s mother and obtained written statements from other students.

         J.C. testified that he was C.K.'s English teacher and that she had eaten lunch with him in his classroom. In response to a written allegation against him by another student, he said that he had taken that student into the hallway to address her wearing a tank top that exposed her cleavage. He said the school had a strict dress-code policy, and the student had violated the policy. He said that it was his job to reprimand her, but he had done so outside the classroom. He said that he had given her a break by not sending her to the principal's office.

         J.C. said that it was not against school policy to take a student off campus for lunch and that he had not known he was supposed to sign out with the student. He said that his mentor, Mr. Sisk, who is another English teacher, took students off campus for lunch. He said that this was his first teaching job out of college, and the allegation occurred six weeks into his job. J.C. had wanted to encourage the formation of a book club, and he said that C.K. was part of the club.

         J.C. denied that anything sexual had occurred between him and C.K. He said that when C.K. failed to turn in a homework assignment, her grade was lowered to a "B," and she had been very upset. He described her as having gritted teeth, a red face, and teary eyes. C.K. told him that he had embarrassed her in front of the class when he had called her down. He then talked to Ms. Rook because he had never seen C.K. behave in that manner. He said that C.K. had disclosed to him that her parents were separated and that she was having a hard time. He said that he had wanted the counselor to talk to C.K. and that he had talked to Ms. Rook about C.K.'s behavior. He told Ms. Rook that C.K. had eaten lunch in his classroom and that they had texted each other. He said that a counselor at school talked to C.K. and that C.K. denied that he had "done anything." He said that it was a week later that C.K. made the allegations against him.

         The administrative law judge (ALJ) issued an opinion after reviewing the ...


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