Case Law Update: 26 Mar 2009

In re M.P. et al. (Unpub'd), No. A122160

Mother P.P. and father G.R. appealed from an order terminating their parental rights to their now six-year-old daughter, M.P., and mother appeals from an order terminating her parental rights to another daughter, and M.P.'s half-sister, seven-year-old A.P. They contend the court erred in failing to recognize that a conflict of interest in the joint representation of the sisters and their five older siblings prevented the siblings from presenting their objections to the termination of parental rights.

The appellate court noted that, by the time of the permanency planning hearing, M.P. and A.P.'s attorney stated that she had "not heard from any of the [siblings] that they would want to object to a permanent plan of adoption", and that she did not believe any actual conflict existed. Further, the appellate court held that, even if an actual conflict had existed, nothing in the record supported the parents' surmise that "counsel's belief that adoption was in the sisters' best interests may have colored her conversations with the older siblings" and that, accordingly, any potential error in the failure to appoint separate counsel was undoubtedly harmless. Accordingly, the appeal was denied and the lower court's orders affirmed.

Opinion: A122160.PDF, A122160.DOC

In re Alissa L. (Unpub'd), No. D053881

Desiree L. appeals a judgment terminating her parental rights to her minor daughter, Alissa L., under 366.26 W&IC. Desiree argues the court lacked sufficient evidence to support its findings that the beneficial parent-child relationship exception of section 366.26(c)(1)(B)(i) did not apply because she regularly visited Alissa and that terminating parental rights would sever the parental relationship she shares with Alissa.

The appellate court found that substantial evidence existed to support the juvenile court's finding because, although the social worker acknowledged that Alissa loves Desiree and that the two share a bond, the fact that Alissa "regarded her current caregivers as her parents and relied on them for her daily emotional and physical needs" supported the juvenile court's conclusion that Alissa would benefit more form the pernanency and stability of adoption than from maintaining her relationship with Desiree. Accordingly, the appellate court held that substantial evidence supported the court's finding that 366.26(c)(1)(B)(i) is inapplicable, affirmed the juvenile court's orders, and denied the appeal.

Opinion: D053881.PDF, D053881.DOC

In re R.W. (Unpub'd), No. G040791

A.W. (Mother), the mother of R.W. (who was taken into protective custody at the age of nine in May 2001) appealed a juvenile court order made on July 17, 2008 limiting her right to make educational decisions for R.W. and the order consenting to the implementation of an individualized education plan (IEP) recommendation to place R.W. at the Cathedral Home in Laramie, Wyoming. Mother contended that the court abused its discretion in issuing the appealed orders because insufficient evidence established that the order was necessary to protect R.W.

The appellate court noted that ample evidence showed that significant effort had been expended searching for an appropriate placement in California, but that no suitable placement could be found and the window of time for providing meaningful intervention for R.W. was closing due to her age. The appellate court therefore held that Mother's opposition to the orders was not in R.W.'s best interests, and that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in moving to limit her authority to make educational decisions so that R.W.'s treatment team could be given the authority to act in her best interests. The juvenile court's orders were therefore affirmed, and mother's appeal was denied.

Opinion: G040791.PDF, G040791.DOC

In re Skyla M., et al. (Unpub'd), No. B205231

Joshua S., father of Gabriel S. and Danielle R., mother of Gabriel and Skyla M., separately appealed from the order of the juvenile court terminating their parental rights. Previously, the appellate court granted a petition for writ review of a juvenile court order terminating reunification services, and ordered the court to extend father's reunification period an additional six months. In their appeals, father and mother argue there is no evidence that the Department provided adequate reunification services or visitation and so the juvenile court could not terminate parental rights. The Social Services Agency did not oppose reversal, impliedly conceding it did not provide adequate services; however, the attorney for the children did support the court's order, aruging that the parents

The appellate court concluded that the record contains no evidence to support the trial court's finding that adequate reunification services were provided. Accordingly, the orders terminating reunification and parental rights were reversed, and the case remanded with instructions for the juvenile court to evaluate, under 352 W&IC "the failure to offer or provide reasonable reunification services; the likelihood of success of further reunification services; whether [children's] need for a prompt resolution of [their] dependency status outweighs any benefit from further reunification services; and any other relevant factors the parties may bring to the court's attention" and on that basis to determine whether to hold a permanency planning hearing under 366.22 W&IC.

Opinion: B205231.PDF, B205231.DOC

In re Rachael L. (Unpub'd), No. D054059

In August, 2006, then-18-month-old Rachael was taken into protective custody and then detained pursuant to 300(b) W&IC after police found Christine (mother) "in an intoxicated and incoherent state, walking with Rachael." The juvenile court found true the allegations, declared Rachael a dependent, and ordered reunification services. In May, 2008, C. (father) was arrested. The pending 366.26 hearing was continued until September 17. C.'s counsel requested a further continuance because C. was still in custody, to which the agency objected on the grounds that the social worker's last day of employment was September 18. The juvenile court denied the continuance. C. was not present at the hearing, but was represented by counsel. At the 366.26 hearing, the court found Rachael was likely to be adopted if parental rights were terminated and none of the statutory exceptions to termination of parental rights and adoption applied. It terminated parental rights and referred the case for adoption.

C. appealed the termination of parental rights, contending that the court abused its discretion and violated his rights under 2625 PC by not continuing the section 366.26 hearing so he could be present. The Social Services Agency argued that these claims are waived because C. did not raise them in the juvenile court. The appellate court exercised its discretion to treat his arguments on their merits. Having so done, it concluded that C. was provided proper notice of the hearing and that there was no reasonable probability the result of the hearing would have been any different had C. been present at the hearing. The appellate court further noted that 352(a) W&IC states that, in evaluating whether to grant a continuance, "the court shall give substantial weight to a minor's need for prompt resolution of his or her custody status." Accordingly, the appellate court concluded that C.'s counsel had not shown good cause to continue the hearing and the decision to deny the continuance was well within the court's discretion. The juvenile court's judgment was thus affirmed, and C.'s appeal was denied.

Opinion: D054059.PDF, D054059.DOC

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