Case Law Update: 16 Mar 2009

In re K.M., No. B206435

Then-two-year-old K.M. was detained by Ventura County Human Services Agency on November 14, 2006. The petition alleged that C.M. (Mother) did not properly supervise or care for the child, that C.M. had untreated mental and emotional issues, and that she was incarcerated for child endangerment. C.M. indicated that she was, or might be, a member of the "Cherakia" tribe, and on that basis the Department sent ICWA notices to the BIA and several bands of the Cherokee tribe. In October, 2007, the maternal grandmother provided some additional information about her and C.M.'s Indian ancestry, but indicated that she "was unwilling to provide further information regarding the child's possible Indian ancestry because she believed the Agency was not properly managing the child's case." Based on the information provided, the Agency made additional ICWA notices. At the hearing terminating parental rights on February 28, 2008, the trial court found that K.M. was not an Indian child.

C.M. appealed, contending that termination of her parental rights must be reversed because the Agency did not interview the child's great-grandmother regarding possible Indian ancestry. The appellate court noted that the Agency was unsuccessful in eliciting full information because of the family's hostility toward them, and expressed that "the rules do not permit them to cause additional unwarranted delay and hardship without any showing whatsoever that the interests protected by ICWA are implicated in any way." The court held that "the Agency did all that can or should be reasonably expected of it to meet its obligation to the child, to the family, to the tribes and to the court," denied C.M.'s appeal, and affirmed the lower court's orders.

Opinion: B206435.PDF, B206435.DOC

In re K.B. (Unpub'd), No. B209268

L.B. (father) appealed an order of the juvenile court terminating parental rights and finding his children adoptable. He contended his parental rights should not have been terminated because the beneficial parent relationship and sibling relationship exceptions apply. He also asserted the court erred in choosing adoption with foster parents rather than legal guardianship with the paternal grandmother and the children received ineffective assistance of counsel. The appellate court denied his appeal and affirmed the lower court's orders.

Opinion: B209268.PDF, B209268.DOC

In re B.T. (Unpub'd), No. B210122

Ericka T., the mother of B.T., born in August 2005, M.T., born in December 2006, and E.T., born in March 2008, appealed from the juvenile court's disposition order removing the children from her custody pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 361, after declaring them dependents of the court pursuant to section 300, subdivision (b). She contended that the decision to remove the children was not supported by substantial evidence and that the juvenile court erred in proceeding with the disposition hearing before satisfying the ICWA notice requirements. The appellate court conditionally remanded for the limited purpose of properly complying with the notice requirements of ICWA, and denied the appeal in all other respects.

Opinion: B210122.PDF, B210122.DOC

In re M.G. et al. (Unpub'd), No. C059162

J.A. (mother) appealed orders of the juvenile court terminating parental rights to her children M.G.. J.T., Mason G., S.G. and Je.T., the subjects of separate juvenile dependency proceedings. In an appeal joined by Bernard T. (the father of Je.T. and J.T.), she alleges that the Department failed to provide notice in accordance with ICWA as to either father, that the evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile court"s finding that termination of parental rights would not substantially interfere with the minors' sibling relationships, that the juvenile court failed to order a bonding study between the minors prior to terminating parental rights, thus violating due process; and that the evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile court'as finding that J.T. and M.G. were adoptable. The appellate court vacated the termination of parental rights order with respect to J.T. and remanded that matter for proper compliance with ICWA. The juvenile court's orders as to M.G. and Mason G. were affirmed.

Opinion: C059162.PDF, C059162.DOC

In re R.L. et al. (Unpub'd), No. B208475

Jeannine E. (Mother) appealed from three dependency court minute orders. She challenged a finding that reunification services were provided or offered to her, the reasonableness of the court's reunification plan, and the court's failure to formulate a new reunification plan. On the first issue, the appellate court concluded that the finding (on a minute order) that "DCFS has complied with the case plan by providing reasonable services" is not an appealable order and must be challenged (if one is so inclined) by a petition for writ of mandate. The court further held that the reasonableness of the reunification plan was previously appealed by Mother and thus the doctrine of res judicata prevents it from being re-appealed, and that the fact that the juvenile court sustained additional allegations in a subsequent petition against Mother does not necessarily mean a new reunification plan need be ordered. Accordingly, the appeal was denied and the juvenile court's orders were affirmed.

Opinion: B208475.PDF, B208475.DOC

In re L.T. (Unpub'd), No. B210408

L.L. (mother) appeals jurisdictional and dispositional orders of the juvenile court pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code sections 358 and 360 with respect to her daughter, L.T. (child). Mother argues that (1) no substantial evidence supported the juvenile court's jurisdictional finding that child was at risk due to incidents of domestic violence that occurred before child was born; (2) the juvenile court abused its discretion by ordering mother to attend domestic violence counseling as part of her case plan; and (3) mother's case plan was unreasonable because the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) failed to investigate prior to the disposition hearing whether reunification services were available to mother during her incarceration by federal authorities.

In response to the first issue, the appellate court noted that Mother did not challenge the court's jurisdictional findings with respect to other of the allegations in the petition, and that "[i]f one jurisdictional finding is supported by substantial evidence, the sufficiency of the evidence supporting any other jurisdictional findings becomes moot." (In re Jonathan B., 5 Cal.App.4th 873, 875) As regards the disposition order, the appellate court noted that "[t]he juvenile court's authority in fashioning a disposition order is not limited to the issues raised by its jurisdictional findings" and that sufficient evidence existed on the record of a history of domestic violence that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in ordering domestic violence counseling. Lastly, the appellate court held that Mother waived her concerns about the availability of services while incarcerated because she failed to object to the disposition order in the juvenile court, and that in any case, Mother failed to demonstrate prejudice. Accordingly, the juvenile court's orders were affirmed and the appeal was denied in all respects.

Opinion: B210408.PDF, B210408.DOC

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