In re A.R., D053125

In re A.R. (D053125)

California Court of Appeals - Fourth Appellate District - 1/26/2009

Facts and Procedural History

A.R. was born in September, 2007, to Amy R. and Robert R, a Navy sailor. A.R. was hospitalized repeatedly following her birth because of unusual bruising on her shoulders, arms, and groin area, which hospital personnel believed might be signs of abuse. The hospital began extensive testing, including DNA tests, to rule out bleeding disorders. In the meantime, on November 17, 2007, A.R. was detained and placed in a foster home. The detention petition, under 300 Welf. & Inst. Code section (a) alleged that the bruising seen by hospital personnel was the result of abuse. Both parents appeared for a detention hearing on November 20, at which counsel was appointed and a jurisdictional hearing was calendared. At the jurisdictional hearing, the court granted a request by the parents to have a vial of A.R.'s blood drawn for DNA testing. A subsequent trial was calendared and continued several times to wait for further medical evidence.

On April 17, 2008, Robert's attorney filed a request for a continuance pursuant to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Pub.L. 108-189. Robert submitted documentation from his commanding officer to the effect that he would be deployed to Iraq from March 17 until November. The hearing was several more times continued, and was ultimately set for May 19. Robert's counsel again asked for a continuance, but the court concluded that whether to stay the proceedings pursuant to the SCRA was discretionary. Citing the time constraints that apply in juvenile dependency cases, the court declined to stay the proceedings. At the May 19 hearing, the court removed A.R. from Robert's custody, placed her with Amy R., and declined to make a visitation order. Robert appealed.


Did the juvenile court err in declining to stay the May 19 hearing under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?


The purposes of the SCRA are "(1) to provide for, strengthen, and expedite the national defense through protection extended . . . to servicemembers of the United States to enable such persons to devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation; and (2) to provide for the temporary suspension of judicial . . . proceedings . . . that may adversely affect the civil rights of servicemembers during their military service." (50 U.S.C. Appen. § 502.)


In order to gain a stay under the SCRA, a servicemember must submit a letter setting forth facts that show how "current military duty requirements materially affect the servicemember's ability to appear and stating a date when the servicemember will be available to appear" and "[a] letter . . . from the . . . commanding officer stating that the servicemember's current military duty prevents appearance and that military leave is not authorized . . . at the time of the letter." The agency conceded that the SCRA applies to dependency matters, and the court noted that Robert clearly met the SCRA's requirements.

The court held that both the statutory presumption that dependency matters proceed quickly and the requirements of ASFA can be overridden by the intent of Congress, and that Congress clearly intended that the SCRA apply to all civil matters, including dependency actions. The court further held that, although the SCRA requires a continuance, that continuance need not be open-ended, and to that extent Robert was incorrect. However, the court found that the minimum 90-day continuance was not discretionary, and that the juvenile court erred in failing to grant it.


YES, the juvenile court erred in declining to grant a continuance under the SCRA.


The judgment was reversed, and the case remanded for a new dispositional hearing. Because more than 90 days passed during the pendency of the appeal, the appellate court ruled that a stay pursuant to SCRA need not be granted at this point.

The full text of the opinion can be downloaded here: PDF, Word.

No comments:

Post a Comment