Case Law Update: 22 April 2009

In re J.W. (Unpub'd), No. A122051

J.W., then age 7, was detained in 2003 under 300(b) W&IC for allegations that included mother's alcohol abuse, lack of a stable and appropriate residence, and failure to ensure J.W.'s attendance at school. In the ensuing years, Mother showed a pattern of resistance to reunification services, lack of responsibility for her actions, and combativeness toward the SSA. The court ultimately, in 2005, adopted a plan of long-term foster care for J.W.

The instant action arose after Mother, who had by then achieved twice-monthly supervised visits, appeared in court for a status hearing while apparently intoxicated. The juvenile court continued J.W. in foster care and ordered that visits remain supervised, with Mother required to undergo a breathalyzer test prior to each visit. Mother appealed these orders, claiming the court erred in requiring the visits be supervised and that this order improperly delegated to the SSA the court's authority to supervise visitation.

The appellate court noted, given that a subsequent review hearing occurred after the date of the challenged orders, that Mother's appeal was likely moot. However, since no superseding orders were a part of the record, the appellate court elected to briefly address her claims.

The appellate court held that no issue exists as to whether the visitation order required supervised visits, because mother never requested that the visits be unsupervised and never objected to the supervision requirement in the juvenile court. Accordingly, the appellate court deemed this issue forfeited on appeal. As regard the delegation of authority issue, the appellate court held that the juvenile court had properly exercised its authority in ordering twice-monthly visits, and that its delegation of the "time, place and manner" of visits to the SSA was statutorily proper.

Accordingly, the juvenile court's order was affirmed, and Mother's appeal was denied.

Opinion: A122051.PDF, A122051.DOC

In re J.R. (Unpub'd), No. B212728

M.H. appealed the findings and orders entered at a termination of parental rights hearing held under 366.26 W&IC terminating parental rights to she children, and from the denial of a petition under 388 W&IC requesting that the court change its orders terminating reunification services and ordering DCFS to find a suitable placement for J.R.

Citing In re Sade C. (1996) 13 Cal.4th 952, her appellate counsel notified the court that he was unable to find any arguable issues for appeal.M.H. then filed a letter brief on her own behalf, in which she reported that she is currently enrolled in a residential drug and alcohol treatment center and that she plans to continue working to become a productive and responsible parent. She also stated that she is receiving reunification services for J.R.'s younger brother, and she feels that both children deserve to have a chance to live with their biological parents and experience life as a family unit with clean and sober parents.

The appellate court noted that "[w]hile we commend the positive steps mother has taken, her letter does not raise a claim of legal error or defect in the juvenile court's rulings in J.R.'s case." Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.

Opinion: B212728.PDF, B212728.DOC

In re William O. (Unpub'd), No. B209426

William O. (minor) was detained in November, 2006, following allegations of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of William S. (Father), and drug use by Father. The juvneile court sustained the allegations, ordered reunification services for both parents, and ordered visitation.

By the time of the 18-month review hearing, Father had failed to comply with court-ordered counseling, denied that William was being abused or neglected, and refused to attend parenting and anger-management classes. The minor indicated he did not want to be reunified with his father, and the SSA reported only sporadic visitation. A contested hearing was set for July, 2008. At that hearing, the juvenile court ordered that William be returned to mother's home with family maintenance services to mother. Although father was granted monitored visitation, his reunification services were terminated. Father appealed, contending that he did not receive reasonable reunification services because the juvenile court failed to ensure regular visitation.

The appellate court held that Father had forfeited the right to challenge the termination of services by failing to raise it at the July, 2008 hearing. Furthermore, the appellate court noted that 361.5 W&IC does not give the juvenile court the discretion to extend reunification services beyond the statutory limit [absent extraordinary circumstances which were not present here], and in any case, the record supports that the court properly ordered visitation and it was Father's choice not to participate.

Accordingly, the appeal was denied, and the order terminating reunification services was affirmed.

Opinion: B209426.PDF, B209426.DOC

In re A.B. (Unpub'd), No. C059618

A.B. (minor, then seven years old) was detained in May, 2008, upon an allegation that P.L. (father) had physically abused A.B.'s half-sibling. However, a June 2008 DHHS report recommended dismissal of the dependency petition "without prejudice", based on its finding that the minor was not at risk of harm in the home of father.

K.B. (mother) appealed the court's order, arguing (inter alia) that the court's order dismissing dependency jurisdiction is an appealable order. However, the appellate court held that the dismissal order was not an appealable order as defined in 395 W&IC. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.

Opinion: C059618.PDF, C059618.DOC

In re I.H. (Unpub'd), No. B208137

I.H. (then an infrant) was detained in mid-2007 pursuant to 300(b) W&IC upon allegations relating to mother's medical neglect and her failure to provide adequate care and supervision, and also under 300(b) and 300(g) W&IC for failure of I.H.'s father (whose whereabouts were unknown) to provide support.

In February, 2008, Cynthia S. (maternal grandmother) filed a petition requesting that I.H. be placed with her, despite the fact that she had failed to comply with the terms of a safety plan she signed early in the process, and that she was "hostile, uncooperative, and resistant to DCFS." The juvenile court ultimately denied the petition, determining that "the child's best interests would not be served by the requested change of order."

Grandmother appealed the denial of the 388 petition, contending that it was denied because of her own prior dependency case and that it was denied without "any further discusion", constituting an abuse of discretion.

The appellate court noted that while, at one point in an earlier proceeding, the juvenile court did in fact comment on her prior dependency case, there was no evidence this fact formed any part of the basis for denying the 388 petition. Further, the appellate court held that the juvenile court conducted a full and proper hearing on the 388 petition and that substantial evidence supported the juvenile court's implicit conclusion that placing I.H. in Cynthia S.'s custody would not have been in I.H.'s best interest.

Accordingly, the juvenile court's denial of Cynthia S.'s 388 petition was affirmed, and the appeal was denied.

Opinion: B208137.PDF, B208137.DOC

In re A.B. (Unpub'd), No. B211762

A.B. (then six months old) was detained in March, 2008, after he was found to have 17 fractures, in various stages of healing, to his arms, legs and ribs, as well as multiple unexplained bruises. The juvenile court denied family reunification services for Mother under 361.5(b)(5) and 361.5(b)(6) W&IC and ordered the SSA to prepare an adoption assessment.

On the day of the October 29, 2009 366.26 W&IC hearing, by which time A.B. was living with prospective adoptive parents who were willing to adopt him, mother filed a 388 petition seeking to change the order denying her reunification services, on the basis of her recent enrollment in counseling. The juvenile court denied the 388 petition upon a finding that Mother was only in the "beginning stages" of addressing the problems that had brought A.B. under the court's jurisdiction, found him adoptable, and terminated Mother's parental rights.

Mother appealed the orders denying her 388 petition and terminating parental rights. The appellate court, pursuant to In re Sade C. (1996) 13 Cal.4th 952, appointed her appellate counsel. Appellate counsel ultimately reported to the court an inability to find any arguable issues. Mother filed a letter brief, arguing that she was denied a fair trial because she didn't understand the proceedings, she was denied reunification despite completing parenting classes and counseling, she could not reasonably be expected to know about the minor's injuries, and the minor's current placement is unsafe for him.

The appellate court, after finding that substantial evidence supported the juvenile court's conclusions and that those conclusions were not arbitrary or capricious, held that Mother did not raise any arguable issues in her letter. Therefore, the juvenile court's orders were affirmed and the appeal was denied.

Opinion: B211762.PDF, B211762.DOC

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