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In re Joanna O.

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

February 28, 2017

In re Ruth Joanna O. O., A Child Under the Age of Eighteen Years, etc., Melissa O., Respondent-Appellant, The Administration for Children's Services, Petitioner-Respondent.

         Respondent mother appeals from the order of fact-finding of the Family Court, Bronx County (Joan L. Piccirillo, J.), entered on or about January 23, 2015, which, after a hearing, determined that she neglected the subject child.

          Steven N. Feinman, White Plains, for appellant.

          Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, New York (Emma Grunberg and Fay Ng of counsel), for respondent.

          Tamara A. Steckler, The Legal Aid Society, New York (Susan Clement and Kristen Calabrese of counsel), attorney for the child.

          Peter Tom, J.P. David B. Saxe Rosalyn H. Richter Judith J. Gische Ellen Gesmer, JJ.

          TOM, J.P.

         In this child protective proceeding, appellant Melissa O. (the mother) appeals from the finding of the Family Court that she neglected her three-month old baby girl. After being discovered at 3 a.m. walking in the middle of a road in Texas, suffering from delusions and talking to herself while her infant daughter was left in the front seat of a vehicle stopped somewhere on the road, the mother was hospitalized in a Texas psychiatric ward. Thereafter, the mother, due to her abnormal, aggressive and threatening behavior, was examined by two psychiatrists in New York who determined she was delusional and assessed her as suffering from psychosis. Although she was prescribed medication for her condition, the mother never acknowledged her serious mental health condition and refused to take the medication. In addition, the mother's unfounded fear that her infant daughter had been raped led her to repeatedly "check" the child's physical condition and then make an unnecessary trip to the hospital.

         Because a preponderance of the evidence in the record supports the finding that the mother's untreated mental condition exposed the child to a substantial risk of harm (Family Court Act § 1046[b][i]; see Matter of Isaiah M. [Antoya M.], 96 A.D.3d 516');">96 A.D.3d 516, 517 [1st Dept 2012]), we affirm.

         I. Facts

         On May 16, 2013, the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) filed a neglect petition against the mother alleging, inter alia, that while the mother was hospitalized from May 4 to May 9, 2013 at Green Oaks Hospital in Texas, she was diagnosed with severe mood disorder with psychosis and postpartum depression, refused to take her prescribed medication (Risperdal), and was referred for further mental health services. The petition alleged that the mother suffered from a mental illness that impaired her ability to care for the child, and had placed the child at imminent risk of harm.

         Before a hearing could be held, by order dated May 16, 2013, Family Court temporarily placed the child with the maternal aunt but permitted the mother to reside in the same home provided she not be left alone with the child.

         At the fact-finding hearing, the court received in evidence an Office of Children and Family Services Intake Report, dated May 13, 2013, called in by Julie Burkes, a child protective worker at the Department of Family and Protective Services in Plano, Texas. The report stated that on May 3, 2013, the mother was found walking in the middle of a Texas road, talking to herself. The mother stated that she had killed her husband, that she and her daughter were "the devil, " and that she also was Jesus's wife. At the time of those statements and observations, the child was found in the front seat of the mother's car. The mother was "extremely delusional and hyper religious, " and was taken to a "mental health facility, " where she remained until May 9, 2013, but was "non-compliant" and "refused medications."

         During the mother's hospitalization in Texas, her cousin, who lived in the area, was called to take the child. Upon her release, her sister from New York picked her up and subsequently the mother and child returned to New York.

         The court also received in evidence medical records from New York City's St. Barnabas Hospital (SBH) pertaining to the mother's treatment there on May 11 and 12, 2013. According to those records, around noon on May 11, 2013, one day after returning from Texas, the mother walked into the SBH emergency room with the child, and the mother's sister, asking that the child "be check[ed]." The mother presented with "erratic behavior." Specifically, she was "screaming" and told triage personnel that she had been raped while in a psychiatric hospital in Texas. Medical personnel were unable to obtain her vital signs due to her "aggressive" behavior.

         At around 12:50 p.m., the mother told medical personnel in the adult emergency department that a "[F]ree [M]ason kill[ed]" and "raped" "my baby, " and thus the child needed to be medically examined. The mother also stated that she herself was raped by a "Free Mason" and she wanted to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. She "was acting irrationally, screaming, and [she] want[ed] to walk out" of the hospital with the child. She also exhibited "threatening behavior" and was assessed as suffering from "[p]sychosis" and constituting a "threat to staff and other patients, " such that she had to be "physically restrained" and sedated with Haldol and Versed by injection. A psychiatric evaluation was ordered for the mother, and the child was taken to the pediatric unit.

         At around 1:35 p.m., an emergency department physician, Jean Dorce, spoke to the mother's sister, who stated, inter alia, that the mother had been stopped by police in Dallas, Texas and brought to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with an "unknown" psychiatric condition and released with a prescription for medication. The mother's sister also stated that the mother had returned to New York from Dallas on the night of May 10, 2013.

         During a psychiatric consult conducted at SBH by Dr. Jean Robert Jacques on the night of May 11, 2013, the mother was unable to provide "a relevant history, " except to say that police officers in Texas had brought her to a psychiatric hospital, where she remained for one week, that she "was medicated" there but had "refuse[d] meds, " and that while she had been hospitalized, her cousin "raped" the child. Dr. Jacques found the mother to be "paranoid, suspicious and guarded." Her thought content was marked by "paranoid ideation." She had "poor" judgment, "limited" insight, and "fair" cognition. Dr. Jacques diagnosed the mother with "psychosis NOS [not otherwise specified]" and directed that she be held in the emergency department for further evaluation and administered Risperdal. However, the mother once again refused that medication and it was not administered.

         The following morning, the mother was evaluated by Dr. Salim Al Salem, to whom she reported, inter alia, that she was separated from her husband a month ago due to "domestic violence" and that her husband was "a member of [the] [F]ree [M]ason cult, " whose other members were "backing him, " which explained why she had been denied gas at a Texas gas station. As for the events that led to her hospitalization in Dallas, she reported that she had driven with the child from Louisiana to the home of a cousin, whom she believed was "doing witchcraft" that "affected [the child]." She left her cousin's home to find a motel, but police officers "followed" her and removed the child from her care, delivered the child to her cousin, and brought her to a psychiatric hospital. When she was discharged from the hospital, she picked up the child and, along with her sister, flew from Dallas to New York City.

         The mother brought the child to SBH for a medical examination because she believed the child had been raped by her cousin. The rape claim was based on having observed a "cotton bud" lubricated with "[V]aseline" "go high up in [the child's] rectum" when she was dealing with the child's constipation.

         Dr. Al Salem diagnosed the mother with "[d]elusional [d]isorder" and concluded that she currently was having a "delusion of persecutory type." After he spoke to the mother's sister and learned that she was willing to have the mother live with her, he directed that the mother receive Abilify, with the "first dose NOW" and a 30-day supply to be provided to her at discharge, along with a referral for follow-up care at Fordham Tremont Mental Health Center (Fordham Tremont).

         The SBH emergency department discharge note listed the mother's discharge diagnosis as delusional disorder, "[a]ctive, " and indicated that medications were "given as ordered" with instruction to follow up with Fordham Tremont "in 3-7 days."

         The medical records also include entries dated June 11, 2013, when the mother came to the emergency department requesting to be reevaluated because she believed that she might not need medication anymore, and noted that she wanted to breast feed her child and that the medication was too costly. A "psych consult" was ordered, but the mother "left against medical advice" before one could be completed. However, the mother was given a refill of her medication "as a courtesy" and written instructions to follow up with Fordham Tremont. The followup was noted to be "urgent."

         At the hearing, ACS caseworker Vanessa Wallace, who had been assigned to this matter, testified that, regarding her hospitalization in Texas, the mother told her that police officers had stopped her on a "highway" because they were Free Masons, who were "trying to take [the child]." The mother showed Ms. Wallace her discharge papers, dated May 8, 2013, from the Texas hospital (Green Oaks), and the papers indicated that the mother had "refused" medication. The mother told Ms. Wallace that Green Oaks had prescribed her Risperdal, but she did not take it because she was not "crazy."

         The mother also reported to Ms. Wallace that after she put a Q-tip in the child's rectum, she concluded that her cousin had raped the child, noting that before the child had stayed with the cousin, a Q-tip would not go "all the way in." The mother did not tell Ms. Wallace that the child had been bleeding. The mother also asserted that she had been restrained at SBH when she did not want medical personnel to examine the child. Although she had been prescribed Abilify, she did not inform her doctor of her complaints about Abilify's side effects, and the mother told Ms. Wallace that she was not going to take Abilify. The mother also told Ms. Wallace that she had been directed to follow up with Fordham Tremont within three to seven days, but that the mother admitted she had still not done so by the seventh day.

         The mother testified at the hearing that her daughter was born on February 14, 2013 and that the mother was her primary caretaker. She breast-fed her, changed her diapers and bathed her. The mother claimed that while she cared for the child, the child was always healthy and that she took the child to the pediatrician for regular checkups.

         After separating from her husband in March 2013, she and the child lived together at a friend's house in Louisiana, but later they had to leave the state because they had "nowhere to stay." When she decided it was more economical to fly to New York from Dallas, Texas, rather than from Louisiana, she called her cousin, Francis Monio, who lived in Dallas, and asked him to "keep [her] for two days." However, when she arrived there, she learned that Monio wanted to separate her from the child because he had received a phone call from someone stating that the mother "was sick" and could not go to New York with the child. The mother then "decided not to stay" with Monio and went to find a motel.

         According to the mother, at 3:00 a.m. on May 9, 2013, after she had driven 300 miles towards Dallas, she parked her car on the side of the road to rest. While she was standing by her car on the side of the road to retrieve her cell phone from the backseat, police officers approached her, handcuffed her, and removed her to a psychiatric facility. She did not understand why the police officers had done this, and while in the hospital, she was not given a chance to talk, other than to say that she was "not sick." The mother was aware that Green Oaks medical personnel had diagnosed her with severe mood disorder with psychosis and prescribed her Risperdal, but she disagreed with the diagnosis and did not know why they prescribed her Risperdal, ...

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