Case Law Update: 16 April 2009

In re E.S. (Unpub'd), No. B210566

E.S. was detained in May, 2007, following allegations under 300(a) and 300(b) W&IC that S.S. (mother)'s boyfriend had inflicted serious injury upon her, that mother had failed to protect her and had a history of substance abuse and criminal activity, and that E. was at serious risk of harm as a result.

At a six-month review hearing in January, 2008, CWS recommended returning E. to her mother's care, based on a series of negative drug tests and mother's participation in services. On January 7, 2008, the court ordered that E. be returned to mother, and remain a dependent child of the court. It also ordered services for E. and mother. The SSA filed a 387 petition in February, 2008, based on allegations that mother was consorting with known criminals and had used drugs again.

A new detention hearing on the 387 petition was held in February, 2008, at which the court ordered E. detained in the custody of CWS for placement in a foster home or the home of a suitable relative. In March, 2008, E. was placed with her paternal grandmother. At a contested juris/dispo hearing in April, the juvenile court sustained the February 11, 2008, petition, declined to provide additional reunification services for mother, and set a section 366.26 permanency planning hearing for July 7, 2008. Mother filed a 388 petition seeking to regain custody of E. or additional reunification services, and a combined hearing was scheduled for August 28, 2008.

The SSA's addendum report for that hearing revealed that A. (a teenager and the daughter of a former friend of mother) admitted to providing urine for mother's drug tests for several months. At the hearing, mother's parental rights were terminated. She appealed, contending that the juvenile court erred in finding the beneficial relationship exception of 366.26(c)(1)(B)(i) did not apply.

The appellate court noted that "mother has shown frequent and loving contact with E. However, she has not shown that the existence of her relationship with E. is sufficient to outweigh her need for a stable, safe and permanent home." Accordingly, the appellate court held that "[s]ubstantial evidence supports the court's finding that mother failed to establish that the parental relationship exception barred the termination of her parental rights."

The juvenile court's orders were therefore affirmed, and the appeal was denied.

Opinion: B210566.PDF, B210566.DOC

In re Jayden C. (Unpub'd), No. B210445

Jayden C. (age 5) was detained in May, 2008, after his half-brother was admitted to the hospital with cerebral hemorrhaging, from which he subsequently died. At an adjudication and disposition hearing in August, at which Mother invoked her Fifth Amendment rights with regard to the half-brother's death, the court declared Jayden and I. dependents of the court and ordered Jayden be placed with Father under a home of father order.

The court ordered the Department to provide family maintenance services to Jayden. Father was ordered to attend a parenting class, keep all medical and therapy appointments for Jayden, and follow-up with all recommendations. The court continued the case for a section 364 hearing. Father appealed the jurisdictional and dispositional orders, arguing that the record does not show that he should have known of Mother's violent tendencies, and that the juvenile court abused its discretion in ordering him to attend a parenting class.

As to the first issue, the appellate court held that "even if Father did not have first-hand knowledge of all of the acts of violence by Mother, Father had personal knowledge of her propensity for violence, as he was the victim of many of the incidents and he had discussed Mother's violent behavior with a social worker...[y]et, knowing of Mother's predisposition to violence, violence that would be harmful to Jayden, Father left Jayden in Mother's care. These facts support the jurisdictional finding that Father knew or should have known that Mother had failed to resolve her violent tendencies."

As to the second issue, the appellate court held that substantial evidence, including Father's decision to leave Jayden in Mother's care despite knowing of her violent tendencies, his failure to seek medical attention for Jayden for a dog bite several days before the half-sibling's hospitalization, and a doctor's note that "Father appears relucant to follow medical advice", supported the juvenile court's conclusion that "parenting classes would assist Father in understanding his parental role and would protect Jayden."

Accordingly, the juvenile court's orders were affirmed, and Father's appeal was denied.

Opinion: B210445.PDF, B210445.DOC

Felix O. v. Superior Court (Unpub'd), No. B213779

S.O. and D.O. (minors) were detained in April of 2007 upon allegations that included, inter alia, that Felix O. (father) and the children's mother had engaged in physical altercations which endangered the children. The juvenile court ordered the children detained, and Felix O. was ordered to attend domestic violence and parenting programs, as well as counseling.

At both the six- and twelve-month review hearings, the court found that Felix O. was in partial compliance with his case plan. At the 18-month review hearing, the Department requested that services be terminated and a 366.26 hearing be set, primarily because Felix O. had not obtained suitable housing for himself and his children. Felix's counsel requested that services be continued to allow him to do so.

The juvenile court held that although Felix O. was in full compliance with his case plan, his lack of appropriate housing for the children continued to put them at risk if placed under his care and, because the case had reached the statutory limit for reunification, there was no alternative to termination of reunification and the setting of a hearing pursuant to section 366.26. The court encouraged Felix O. to obtain appropriate housing and suggested he may seek a change in the court's order setting the section 366.26 hearing, prior to the date of the hearing, by petition for modification under 388 W&IC.

Felix O. filed a petition for extraordinary relief from the juvenile court's order setting a 366.26 hearing, arguing that the juvenile court improperly terminated reunification services because there was not substantial evidence to support its finding the Department provided reasonable reunification services. Both S.O. and D.O., through their counsel, and the SSA opposed his petition.

The appellate court held that the record showed that reasonable services had been provided and, further, that the court's authority to terminate reunification services and set a section 366.26 hearing at the 18-month stage is not conditioned on a finding of reasonable services. Accordingly, the petition for extraordinary writ was denied on its merits.

Opinion: B213779.PDF, B213779.DOC

In re P.V. et al. (Unpub'd), No. C060003

On March 20, 2007, Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) filed section 300 petitions on behalf of minors P.V., who was less than a month old, and A.V., nearly three years old. The petitions alleged mother had allowed unsupervised contact between the minors and father, and that father had sexually molested his biological child in 2005 and failed to rehabilitate or successfully reunify with that child. The petition further alleged that mother failed to acknowledge father's sexual molestation of his child.

The juvenile court sustained the petitions, adjudicated the minors dependents of the court, and ordered reunification services for mother and father. The minors were placed with the maternal grandparents. Reunification services were terminated in April 2008 and a 366.26 hearing was set for August of 2008. At that hearing, counsel for both parents requested a continuance because their clients were not present. The juvenile court denied counsels' oral request for a continuance for failure to state good cause. No additional evidence was presented. The juvenile court found the minors were likely to be adopted, terminated parental rights, and freed the minors for adoption.

The parents appealed the termination of parental rights, alleging that the adoption assessment prepared by DHHS was inadequate and that their counsel delivered inadequate representation by failing to object to its adequacy, and that the juvenile court abused its discretion in denying their request for a continuance of the hearing.

As to the adoption assessment, the appellate court held that parents' allegations about the insufficiency of the adoption assessment were waived for failure to object in the juvenile court proceeding. The appellate court further held that "[t]here are no facts suggested by the record that could have been produced to change this state of affairs. Thus, the record does not show there was good cause to object to the assessment or that preparation of a more thorough assessment would change the result of the hearing."

As to the juvenile court's denial of a continuance, the appellate court held that 352(a) W&IC requires that continuances "shall be granted only upon a showing of good cause" and that no such showing was made in this case. Accordingly, "[u]nder the circumstances, the juvenile court acted well within its discretion in denying appellants' counsel's oral request to continue the section 366.26 hearing."

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

Opinion: C060003.PDF, C060003.DOC

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