MCFADDEN, C. J., MCMILLIAN, P. J., and SENIOR APPELLATE JUDGE
MCFADDEN, CHIEF JUDGE.
granted C. W.'s application for discretionary review of a
superior court order that reinstated the decision of the
Division of Family and Children Services of the Department of
Human Services ("DFCS") to include C. W.'s name
on the central child abuse registry for prenatal abuse
because of her use of marijuana while pregnant. See OCGA
§§ 49-5-180 (5) (2018), 49-5-181 (a) (2018). C. W.
argues that under the language of the governing statutes,
marijuana is not a "controlled substance," and so a
mother's use of marijuana during pregnancy does not
amount to prenatal abuse.
credit, DFCS concedes that C. W. is correct. We agree, so we
central child abuse registry, which is also known as the
Child Protective Services Information System,
is a statutory system that provides for the establishment and
maintenance of a central registry containing information
about "substantiated" cases of child abuse. See
OCGA §§ 49-5-180 - 49-5-187. The Act [establishing
the registry] requires that DFCS investigate reports of child
abuse and, if the abuse investigator finds by a preponderance
of the evidence that an act of child abuse occurred,
information must be added to the registry about the abuse,
the abuser, the child victim, and the child's guardian.
See OCGA §§ 49-5-182, 49-5-183. . . .
OCGA § 49-5-183 requires that DFCS must notify an
alleged abuser when his or her name is added to the registry.
See OCGA § 49-5-183 (a). The alleged abuser may then
request an evidentiary hearing before an administrative law
judge ("ALJ") by submitting a written request for a
hearing to DFCS within ten days after receiving the notice.
See OCGA § 49-5-183 (a) and (c). . . . The ALJ makes the
final "administrative determination regarding whether,
based on a preponderance of evidence, there was child abuse
committed by the alleged child abuser to justify the
investigator's determination of a substantiated
case." OCGA § 49-5-183 (d). If not, the ALJ must
order the alleged abuser's name removed from the
registry. OCGA § 49-5-183 (e).
Ga. Dept. of Human Svcs. v. Steiner, 303 Ga. 890,
890-891 (I) (815 S.E.2d 883) (2018).
placed C. W.'s name on the child abuse registry based on
its determination that she had committed child abuse by
unlawfully using a controlled substance while she was
pregnant. The child abuse investigator stated in the Notice
of Inclusion mailed to C. W. that C. W. was
"substantiated for child endangerment as a result of
prenatal abuse. [C. W.] exposed [her daughter, ] B. W.[, ]
(newborn) to chronic abuse of a controlled substance,
specifically marijuana. At the time of B. W.'s birth . .
. THC [(the common abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol)]
was positive in B. W.'s meconium." The investigator
testified that C. W. had told him that, at the suggestion of
a doctor and a midwife, she had used marijuana to help
alleviate nausea and vomiting.
petitioned for a hearing under OCGA § 49-5-183 (c) to
challenge the inclusion of her name on the child abuse
registry. An administrative law judge ordered DFCS to remove
C. W.'s name because under the plain language of the
statutes at issue, marijuana is not a controlled substance,
so a mother's use of marijuana while pregnant does not
amount to prenatal abuse.
appealed the administrative law judge's decision to the
superior court. The superior court reversed because THC, the
substance identified in the infant's meconium, is a
controlled substance under OCGA § 16-13-21 (4). C. W.
then filed her application for discretionary appeal.
establishing the child abuse registry provides that child
abuse includes "endangering a child," which can
include "prenatal abuse" as defined in OCGA §
15-11-2. OCGA §§ 19-7-5 (b) (4) (C) & (b) (6.1)
(D); 49-5-180 (4). OCGA § 15-11-2 defines "prenatal
exposure to chronic or severe use of alcohol or the unlawful
use of any controlled substance, as such term is defined in
Code Section 16-13-21, which results in: (A) Symptoms of
withdrawal in a newborn or the presence of a controlled
substance or a metabolite thereof in a newborn's body,
blood, urine, or meconium that is not the result of medical
treatment; or (B) Medically diagnosed and harmful effects in
a newborn's physical appearance or functioning.
OCGA § 15-11-2 (56). So as relevant here, prenatal abuse
that amounts to endangering a child requires proof that,
among other things, a pregnant woman used a controlled