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Because Dawn had filed a number “child abuse or neglect” reports which were subsequently determined to be “unfounded,” Michael sought an order modifying the mother’s visitation rights and, in furtherance of that application, requested (by way of subpoena) that the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS) give him access to those (usually sealed) records.

After ACS repeatedly provided the documents in redacted form, Michael sought to hold the agency in contempt, but the New York County Family Court declined that request because it was of the opinion the papers weren't usable or “admissible” in the case. It also denied Michael’s request to hold Dawn in contempt for her alleged violation of the custody order.

On appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department, thought that Michael had established that ACS was in contempt. It noted, in pertinent part, as follows:

“The subpoena was a valid order expressing an unequivocal mandate, requiring ACS to produce ‘complete’ investigation and unfounded reports of suspected child abuse concerning the children. ACS does not deny that it was aware of the order. Further, ACS did not comply with the subpoena, as it produced reports that redacted the names of sources, not complete reports. Finally, the father suffered prejudice, because his modification petition alleges that the mother was causing false abuse reports to be filed with the authorities, and the unredacted unfounded reports may be admissible in such a proceeding ….”

The AD1 was also of the view the Family Court was in error for not reviewing the materials ACS supplied, and ensuring the agency complied with governing law (and the lawfully issued subpoena) and sent the matter back for further proceedings. (Among other things, it directed the Family Court to ensure that there was nothing in the documents which were “detrimental to the safety or interests” of the person or people who made the reports.)

As for holding the mother in contempt for violating the custody order (by taking the kids on a trip to North Carolina without advising the father, in advance), the AD1 thought Michael didn’t meet all the governing elements in that instance. Apparently, he relied on an affidavit, failed to provide any “direct testimony” on the matter, and wasn’t able to establish Dawn’s contempt with “clear and convincing evidence.”

Do you think they had contempt for that position there?

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Matter of Michael Y. v Dawn S.