County Family Court (15-4108-1) Associate Justice Karen Lynch
Petitioner: Karen A. Clark Department of Children Youth and
Families Karl D. Beauregard Court Appointed Special Advocate
Respondent: Robert E. Craven, Esq. Nicholas A. Solitro, Esq.
Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia JJ.
A. Suttell Chief Justice.
Brugeman (Anna or mother) appeals from a Family Court decree
finding that she abused and neglected her infant child,
Sophia. This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to
an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why
the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily
decided. After considering the parties' written and oral
submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause
has not been shown and that this case may be decided without
further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in
this opinion, we vacate the decree of the Family Court as it
pertains to Anna Brugeman.
Facts and Procedural History
was born to Anna and Ernest M. (Ernest or father) on November
14, 2015. According to the parents, on the evening of
December 4, 2015, three-week-old Sophia was fed, bathed, and
placed in her bassinet prior to 9 p.m. without any sign of
injury. Anna testified that, when Sophia woke up crying
during the night, Anna "couldn't keep [her own] eyes
open," so she asked Ernest to feed Sophia, telling him
that she would wake up for the next feeding. Anna said she
went back to sleep until 7:30 the next morning. In the
meantime, Ernest tended to Sophia, changing her diaper before
giving her a bottle. Ernest testified that, while he was
feeding Sophia, her lip struck his collarbone. According to
Ernest, Sophia cried for about five minutes after the
incident, but she then took her bottle.
testified that she first noticed an injury to Sophia's
lip the next morning. When she asked Ernest how the lip
bruising occurred, Ernest told her that when he was burping
Sophia, her lip hit his collarbone. Ernest testified that,
after this brief conversation with Anna, he changed
Sophia's diaper and dressed her, but did not see
any other injuries on her body. Later that day, Anna and
Ernest brought Sophia and L.M.,  Ernest's other daughter,
to a mall to take pictures with Santa, accompanied by
L.M.'s mother. After arriving home from the mall, Sophia
napped while Ernest took L.M. to the dog park at their
changed Sophia's diaper when the infant woke from her nap
that afternoon. Anna testified that she noticed a "weird
shaped" bruise on Sophia's back, a lot of bruising
above her upper shoulder blades, and a "little red
bruise" on her stomach. Anna took pictures of the
bruises and sent them to her mother around 2:30 p.m.; her
mother advised her to call the pediatrician. Sophia's
pediatrician suggested that Anna take Sophia to the hospital.
after, when Ernest and L.M. returned from the dog park, Anna
told Ernest about her conversations with her mother and
Sophia's pediatrician. Anna testified that Ernest was
hesitant to go to the hospital at that point and that he
suggested that they should wait until Monday to see
if it cleared up. After a brief discussion, Ernest and Anna
took Sophia to Hasbro Children's Hospital around 5:30
p.m., and the infant was admitted.
recalled at trial, however, that when he arrived home from
the dog park earlier that afternoon, Anna notified him of a
rash on Sophia's stomach, not bruising. He testified that
he treated Sophia's stomach with lotion, and suggested to
Anna that they take Sophia to a doctor if the
"rash" did not clear up in a day or
Ernest testified that he then took L.M. to CVS, and that it
was only after he returned that Anna showed him the mark on
Sophia's back. Ernest testified that he told Anna to call
the pediatrician, and that he did not hesitate to take Sophia
to the hospital.
Barron, M.D., the on-call physician at Hasbro's child
protection center, was consulted to examine Sophia at the
hospital on the day after her admittance. Doctor Barron
reviewed Sophia's emergency department records, obtained
histories from Anna and Ernest separately, and then conducted
a physical examination of Sophia. In his statement to Dr.
Barron, Ernest said that the lip injury to Sophia occurred
while he was burping Sophia, and that Sophia lifted her head
and "cracked on his collarbone[.]" Ernest could not
provide Dr. Barron with an explanation for the other bruises
on Sophia's stomach, upper back, mid-back, right flank,
and diaper area. Anna gave a similar history to Dr. Barron,
differing only on the specific time that she noticed the
bruise on Sophia's stomach and the question as to whether
or not that bruise was actually a rash. Anna also informed
Dr. Barron of a family history with "von Willebrand
disease," a mild bleeding disorder.
Barron ordered a skeletal survey, a head CT scan,
a "full workup," all of which came back normal;
also, there was no indication that Sophia had a bleeding
disorder. Doctor Barron's physical examination revealed
that Sophia had petechia on her chest and "bruises of
different colors" on her abdomen, diaper area, upper
back, mid-back, and right flank into her right buttocks.
Although she could not age the bruises, Dr. Barron listed the
stomach bruise as "acute[, ]" meaning
"identifying usually within 12 to 24 hours."
Additionally, Dr. Barron testified that the bruise on
Sophia's right flank had not been documented in the
emergency department, but emerged a few hours after Sophia
arrived at the hospital. She testified that this injury did
not occur while Sophia was in the hospital, explaining that
it would not be uncommon for a bruise to "take a few
hours or * * * even a day to demonstrate itself." Doctor
Barron noted that, from the day of her admittance until her
discharge on December 11, 2015, Sophia's injuries healed
normally and she did not sustain any additional bruising
while in the hospital.
accordance with her standard protocol, Dr. Barron also
reviewed the medical history of L.M., then three years old.
L.M.'s medical records indicated that she had been
brought to the hospital with unexplained bruising on her
stomach and diaper area a few weeks after she was born, and
that L.M.'s mother was instructed "not to allow the
father to be [L.M.'s] sole caregiver[.]" Although
the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) had
not been contacted during L.M.'s visit to the hospital,
Dr. Barron testified that "on full review of the older
sibling[, ] * * * those injuries would be consistent with
child physical abuse." Doctor Barron stated that she
found the similarities between the ...