Case Law Update: 13 April 2009

Juvenile Dependency Opinions - 13 Apr 2009

In re C.C. , No. B208675

C.C. (12 years old) was detained in July, 2007 on allegations under 300(a) and 300(b) W&IC pertaining to mother's physical and verbal abuse and unstable behavior. The court ordered reunification services for both parents, including facilitated visits between Lisa and C.C. On September 7, 2007, however, the Department filed an ex parte request seeking suspension of visitation between Lisa and C.C. The application was based on a letter from C.C.'s therapist indicating his level of distress had escalated after each of the three previous monitored visits. C.C. had stated he did not want to have contact with Lisa, a position the therapist viewed as justified, and had threatened to harm himself and Lisa if forced to visit her. The court suspended visitation pending an evidentiary hearing.

At the evidentiary hearing, the court suspended visitation pending further hearings, though monitored visitation and conjoint therapy were ultimately ordered. In April, 2008, the therapy was suspended after the therapist acknowledged that C.C. was not willing to participate and that this rendered the therapy not effective. In September, 2008, the court again suspended vistation and ordered Lisa to complete several programs, including parenting and anger management. Lisa appealed these orders, aguing that the trial court erred in finding continued visitation with her would be detrimental to C.C. and, in essence, improperly permitted C.C. himself to preclude or veto visitation.

While Lisa's appeal was pending, in March of 2009, the juvenile court entered a family-law exit order (under 362.4 W&IC) awarding sole legal custody of C.C. to his father, authorizing monitored visits and terminating jurisdiction. The appellate court nonetheless agreed to hear Lisa's appeal, even though the primary issues raised in it were rendered moot by the 362.4 order, to avoid "the possibility [Lisa] will be prejudiced by the court's finding of detriment and order terminating visitation in some collateral proceeding".

Having thus agreed to hear the appeal, the appellate court found that the juvenile court's orders denying visitation were not supported by by clear and convincing evidence that further visitation with Lisa would be detrimental to C.C. The appellate court noted that "[w]ithout visitation of some sort, it is virtually impossible for a parent to achieve reunification" and expressed that "we cannot tell from the record whether the court's reasoning was properly tethered to the statutory directive mandating parental visitation unless there exists substantial evidence of a threat to the child's safety". For those reasons, the orders suspending visitation were reversed. In light of the subsequent disposition of the case, which included an order restoring visitation, no remand was deemed necessary.

Opinion: B208675.PDF, B208675.DOC

In re R.C. (Unpub'd), No. C059179

R.C. (then six years old) and his sibling were detained in July 2006 upon allegations that mother's mental instability (chronic depression and anxiety) rendered her unable to care for them. The juvenile court sustained the allegations in the petition, and the matter was continued for a dispositional hearing with an order that appellant participate in a psychological evaluation as arranged by the social worker. A psychological evaluation was not completed by the time of the dispositional hearing. The juvenile court ordered services for appellant as recommended by the social worker and again ordered a psychological evaluation.

The SSA's report at the six-month review was fairly positive, showing that mother was attending therapy and a parenting class, and consistently attended visits. The court therefore ordered services be continued and again ordered a psychological evaluation "to identify how to best tailor [appellant's] services." However, the evaluation which was ultimately prepared made no such recommendations, but instead concluded that "it was 'very unlikely' she could benefit from services sufficiently within 12 months such that she would be able to parent her children." The 12-month review report, however, made some recommendations of services, including referral to a neurologist for evaluation.

At the 12-month review hearing in October 2007, the juvenile court found reasonable services had not been provided because the psychological evaluation initially did not address the tailoring of services. The court ordered the Department to utilize the plan of services developed by the psychological evaluation, and set the matter for an 18-month review hearing. However, none of those services were actually provided by the SSA between October, 2007 and the 18-month review hearing. Accordingly, the court terminated services.

Mother appealed, arguing that she was not provided reasonable services during the last six months of reunification efforts. The appellate court noted that Mother "was not provided most of the services in her updated case plan, including individual therapy, independent living skills training and a neurological examination" and that the only service provided following the 12-month review was hands-on parenting training with R.C.'s sibling. Accordingly, the appellate court held that the juvenile court's termination of services at the 18-month hearing was not based on a reasonable finding that appropriate services had been provided, and therefore that the termination of services was an abuse of discretion.

Accordingly, the order terminating reunificaiton services was reversed, and the case was remanded with direction to the juvenile court to order additional reunification services.

Opinion: C059179.PDF, C059179.DOC

D.M. et al. v. Superior Court (Unpub'd), No. G041370

C.M. (now 15 years old) was adopted by D.M. (father) and L.M. (mother) in 2003 at age 9. According to C.M., she never felt a sense of belonging with her adoptive parents. Her birth mother reappeared in her life when she was in seventh grade, showering her with affection. The birth mother contacted C.M. at school and attended her basketball practices. Meeting surreptitiously, C.M. enjoyed the attention. But her behavior deteriorated, marked by lying, stealing, a defiant attitude, and truancy. She stole money from her adoptive mother to give to her birth mother, and stole cell phones from friends to call her birth mother. Petitioners placed C.M. on restriction and further attempted to modify her behavior and safeguard her by moving her to a different school.

Petitioners grounded C.M. on May 17, 2008, after she received a poor report card and a classmate's father complained she harassed his daughter with hostile text messages. While the rest of the family attended a birthday party, C.M. remained home. Later claiming she only intended to cause the two family dogs to have diarrhea for her mother to clean up, C.M. fed the animals her adult sister's medication, Naproxen. The family returned home to find one dog already dead and the other, foaming at the mouth, about to die. Petitioners called the police, who arrested C.M. for animal cruelty, escorting her out of the house in handcuffs. The police transported C.M. to juvenile hall, where she spent two months awaiting a delinquency hearing on two counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty filed by the district attorney.

On June 11, 2008, the delinquency court sustained the district attorney's animal cruelty allegations against C.M. and ordered a probation report. Based on her interview with the parents, the probation officer concluded they "have no desire to reunify with the minor." According to the probation officer, the parents planned "to pursue reversal of the adoption." The officer "d[id] not recall that the parents ever referred to the child they have raised for the past seven years as their 'daughter.' It is clear they want no part of a future relationship with her." They proffered no relatives or suitable adults to assume responsibility for C.M.

On the basis of this decision, the SSA filed a dependency petition under 300(b) and 300(g), alleging, inter alia, that C.M. was left without any provision for support by her adoptive family. The parents declined reunification services, and after a conference and an SSA's report in November, 2008, the court determined that dependency jurisdiction was more appropriate for C.M. than wardship.

The parents filed a petition for extraordinary writ, contending that the SSA and probation department's report prepared under 241.1 W&IC was inadequate because no independent assessment was done by C.M. probation officer, that the court erred in declining to require C.M.'s probation officer to consider a new wardship petition under 601 W&IC, and that substantial evidence did not support the court's jurisdictional findings.

As to the first contention, the appellate court held that since, at the time the November report was prepared, C.M. was not a ward of the court and thus a 241.1 report was not required, and in any case, there was no evidence the probation department failed to participate in the preparation of the evaluation. The appellate court likewise rejected the second contention, noting that since a 241.1 report was not required, the trial court therefore did not err in refusing to order the probation department to consider filing a section 601 petition as part of preparing such a report.

As to the sufficiency of the jurisdictional findings, the appellate court noted that "petitioners' focus on how they believe the dependency proceedings reflect poorly on them misconstrues the purpose of juvenile court dependency jurisdiction" because "[f]undamentally...the focus of the system is on the child, not the parents." The appellate court noted that, whatever their motives for doing so, the parents' actions left C.M. with no home and nowhere to go, and that therefore jurisdiction under 300(g) was justified.

The orders of the juvenile court were thus affirmed, and writ relief was denied.

Opinion: G041370.PDF, G041370.DOC

In re Charles N. (Unpub'd), No. A121373

This case comprised three consolidated appeals by the parents and grandparents of Charles N., who was taken into the juvenile dependency system before he was a year old. The dependency concluded with the termination of both parents' rights as to the child. Through this entire period, the grandparents unflaggingly sought to have the child placed with them, even if the reunification efforts of the parents were not successful.

The parents, who filed separate and lengthy briefs, presented numerous arguments looking to overturn the order terminating their parental rights. Many of these arguments are joined by the grandparents.

The primary goal of the grandparents' appeal — which was joined by the parents — was to overturn the placement order made at the same time as the termination order. They insisted that the juvenile court abused its discretion in maintaining placement with the foster parents who were prepared to adopt, arguing that what the court should have done was shift placement to a member of the family, most obviously the grandparents themselves.

The appellate court, after considering all the arguments in a 49-page opinion, expressed that "although we sympathize with the family's frustration at not getting custody, we are unable to conclude that the juvenile court exceeded the bounds of reason by leaving the minor with the extraordinarily-qualified foster parents who had cared for him since he was detained." Accordingly, the juvenile court's orders were affirmed, and the appeals were denied.

Opinion: A121373.PDF, A121373.DOC

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