Justia Juvenile Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
In re A.H.
In September 2019, the Department filed a dependency petition after taking six-year-old A.H. and her younger half-siblings into emergency protective custody and placing them in foster care. The petition alleged that the children’s mother had allowed A.H. to have unsupervised contact with an older relative suspected of having sexually molested the child. A.H.’s alleged father, J.H., had failed to provide care, support, or supervision for more than a year and it was indicated that his whereabouts were unknown, although the Department did have an address.The court of appeal reversed an order terminating J.H.'s parental rights. From the outset of the dependency proceedings through the jurisdiction and dispositional hearing, the Department’s efforts to locate J.H. and provide him notice requirements fell far short of the statutory requirements and left him in the dark about his parental status, how to assert his parental rights and how to participate in the proceedings. While its efforts may have improved later in the case, the Department never rectified its earlier failures by advising J.H. of his right to request counsel and his need to elevate his status to "presumed parent" to assert his parental rights. The Department violated his right to due process. View "In re A.H." on Justia Law
Ashley W. v. Holcomb
When the Indiana Department of Child Services identifies a situation that involves the apparent neglect or abuse of a child, it files a “CHINS” (Children in Need of Services) petition that may request the child’s placement with foster parents. The litigation ends only when the court determines that the child’s parents can resume unsupervised custody, the child is adopted, or the child turns 18. Minors who are or were subject to CHINS proceedings sought an injunction covering how the Department investigates child welfare before CHINS proceedings, when it may or must initiate CHINS proceedings, and what relief the Department may or must pursue. The district court denied a request to abstain and declined to dismiss the suit.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Only two plaintiffs still have live claims; all of their claims may be resolved in CHINS proceedings, so “Younger” abstention applies. Short of ordering the state to produce more money, "it is hard to see what options are open to a federal court but closed to a CHINS court." It is improper for a federal court to issue an injunction requiring a state official to comply with existing state law. Questions that lie outside the scope of CHINS proceedings, such as how the Department handles investigations before filing a CHINS petition, do not affect the status of the remaining plaintiffs. Any contentions that rest on state law also are outside the province of the federal court. View "Ashley W. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law
In re G.B.
A New Hampshire circuit court issued an adjudicatory order finding that G.B., a minor, had been neglected, but that respondents, G/B/'s adoptive parents, were not at fault for the neglect. Subsequently, the court issued a dispositional order awarding legal custody of G.B. to the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and requiring DCYF to seek placement for G.B. in a residential treatment facility. DCYF appealed both orders, and G.B.’s guardian ad litem (GAL), Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire (CASA), joined in appealing the dispositional order. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it ruled that the respondents did not neglect G.B. The Court further concluded that, although the circuit court did not err by ruling G.B. a neglected child and ordering G.B.’s placement in a residential treatment facility, it failed to identify legally permissible primary and concurrent case plans in its dispositional order. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "In re G.B." on Justia Law
Smith v. Alexander, et al.
Steven Smith, as conservator of the estate of B.J. (minor), appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Elizabeth Alexander, Amanda Buchanan, and Michael Key on Smith's claims alleging violations of policies promulgated by the State Department of Human Resources ("the State DHR"), negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage. In May 2015, Key was employed by the Cullman County DHR as a foster-care supervisor, responsible for supervising Cullman County DHR caseworkers. Key reported to Buchanan, who oversaw the Child Family Services Program, the Child Protective Services Program, and the Foster Care Program for the Cullman County DHR. Buchanan in turn reported to Alexander, the director of the Cullman County DHR. B.J. was placed in the custody of the Cullman County DHR when he was three years old after having suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect at the hands of family members. In 2002, the trial court awarded the Cullman County DHR legal guardianship and permanent custody of B.J. While in the custody of the Cullman County DHR, B.J. was placed in a number of foster homes, group homes, residential facilities, hospitals, and psychiatric institutions. In July 2014, B.J. was placed by the Cullman County DHR at the Altapointe Group Home. While there, B.J. underwent an assessment, which revealed he had regularly exhibited violent outbursts and physically aggressive behavior toward others; he had a history of depression, suicide and delusional thinking; and engaged in impulsive and delinquent behavior. B.J. would ultimately be arrested for such behavior towards others. B.J. had personal funds with which he could post bail, but the decision was made he should have remained in jail pending an arrangement for further mental health counseling. Smith argued defendants' decisions leaving B.J. incarcerated did not follow departmental policies of least-restrictive-placement-possible, and as such, caused B.J. irreparable harm. The Alabama Supreme Court found that each crucial decision made by the defendants -- i.e., the decisions not to place B.J. at the Gateway facility and not to post B.J.'s bond before his court date -- were made with B.J.'s best interests in mind after consideration of all the relevant recommendations and factors. Accordingly, Smith failed to provide substantial evidence demonstrating that the defendants acted willfully in dealing with B.J. and that, therefore, they were not entitled to the protection of State-agent immunity. View "Smith v. Alexander, et al." on Justia Law
In re R.A.
Father and Mother lived together for a few years and are the parents of Minor, who was born in 2014. By 2018, Mother was raising her children—Minor and Minor’s three older half-siblings—on her own, and she did not know Father’s whereabouts. The Alameda County Social Services Agency filed a juvenile dependency petition on behalf of the children, listing Father’s name but stating his address was unknown. On November 12, 2019, the Agency filed a status review report for the six-month review hearing; 13 months after the original petition was filed, the Agency first listed an address for Father as the California State Prison. Father subsequently was deemed Minor’s presumed father and was released from custody. The juvenile court summarily denied his motion under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 to set aside prior findings, without a hearing.The court of appeal set aside the juvenile court’s order setting a hearing under section 366.26 to consider termination of parental rights, guardianship, or another permanent plan. Father sufficiently raised the possibility that the Agency failed to use due diligence to locate him and sufficiently stated a notice violation to warrant an evidentiary hearing. View "In re R.A." on Justia Law
Nicole K. v. Stigdon
When Indiana officials determine that a child is suffering abuse or neglect, they initiate the Child in Need of Services (CHIN) process. Lawyers are automatically appointed for parents but not for children in the CHINS process. The plaintiffs, children in the CHINS process, claimed that they are entitled to counsel. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, citing “Younger” abstention. While declining to decide that Younger would mandate abstention in all CHINS cases, the court reasoned that principles of comity entitle states to make their own decisions. Because children are not automatically entitled to lawyers, as opposed to the sort of adult assistance that Indiana routinely provides, it would be inappropriate for a federal court to resolve the appointment-of-counsel question in any of the 10 plaintiffs’ state proceedings. A state judge may decide to appoint counsel or may explain why counsel is unnecessary. View "Nicole K. v. Stigdon" on Justia Law
In re J.H.
Respondent J.H. was ordered to pay restitution as part of a 2005 juvenile delinquency adjudication. J.H.’s wardship terminated on June 6, 2014, after which writs of execution were issued for the unpaid balance. J.H. subsequently moved to quash. The superior court granted the motion, finding the restitution order was no longer valid because the 10-year enforcement period for money judgments had expired without renewal of the restitution order as required by section 683.020 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The State appealed, contending restitution orders imposed in delinquency proceedings were not subject to the 10-year enforcement period of Code of Civil Procedure section 683.020. The Court of Appeal concluded that, while restitution orders in delinquency cases were enforceable as money judgments and could be converted to money judgments, they were not money judgments for the purpose of the 10-year enforcement limit. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "In re J.H." on Justia Law
Coats v. New Haven Unified School District
When E.D. was 17 years old, a high school teacher began engaging in sex with her in his classroom. The situation was discovered after several months. The teacher admitted engaging in sexual intercourse with E.D. 10-20 times while she was a minor. The principal had previously disciplined the teacher for inappropriate contact with a student but the conduct had not been reported to authorities; no steps were taken to monitor the teacher’s contact with other female students. E.D. brought claims against the teacher for sexual abuse, against the school defendants for negligence and breach of statutory duties in failing to adequately supervise teachers and protect students, and against all the defendants for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; her foster mother joined in the claims of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. They alleged that they were not required to present a claim to the School District under the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code 810) due to the exemption for claims of sexual abuse of a minor, section 905(m). The District had enacted its own claim presentation requirement, purportedly overriding section 905(m)The court of appeal reversed the dismissal of E.D.’s causes of action. The Legislature has consistently expanded the ability of childhood sexual abuse victims to seek compensation but it is not clear that it intended to provide relatives the same rights as direct victims. View "Coats v. New Haven Unified School District" on Justia Law
Andrew M. v. Superior Court of Contra Costa County
Shortly before turning 18 Andrew committed an armed robbery; his accomplice shot and killed a police officer. After his conviction, Judge Brady sentenced Andrew to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP), plus 24 years. The court of appeal reversed one special circumstance. On remand, Judge Brady sentenced Andrew to LWOP plus 24 years. After a second remand following the U.S. Supreme Court's Miller decision (2012), Judge Brady imposed LWOP plus 23 years, finding Andrew’s actions “were not those of an irresponsible or impulsive child," nor the product of peer pressure, coercion, or surprise and finding no realistic chance of rehabilitation. The court of appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court returned the case with directions to consider whether legislation rendering juvenile LWOP defendants eligible for parole suitability hearings mooted Andrew’s challenge.While Andrew’s appeal was pending Proposition 57 eliminated a prosecutor’s ability to “direct file” charges in criminal court against minors of a certain age. These minors may be tried in criminal court only after the juvenile court conducts a transfer hearing to consider specific factors. The court rejected Andrew’s LWOP challenge but concluded he was entitled to a Proposition 57 hearing. The superior court granted the prosecution's motion to assign that hearing to Judge Brady. The court of appeal rejected a mandamus petition. A conditional reversal and limited remand for a Proposition 57 transfer hearing are not a “new trial” under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.61, which permits parties in civil and criminal actions to move to disqualify an assigned trial judge based on an allegation that the judge is prejudiced against the party. View "Andrew M. v. Superior Court of Contra Costa County" on Justia Law
In re William M.W.
The Social Services Agency alleged that the children were exposed to domestic violence and substance abuse. The court declared the minors to be juvenile court dependents, removed them from parents’ care, and ordered reunification services. The Agency recommended termination of reunification and referral for selection of a permanent plan. The matter was set for a contested hearing. The parents' attorneys moved to compel discovery, seeking an order that copies of discovery be provided by the Agency to both parents at no cost. The Agency refused, arguing that it had fulfilled its discovery obligations by making discovery available for inspection in accordance with its usual protocol. Parents’ counsel was allowed to take pictures of documents or to otherwise copy them using their own supplies without charge. The Agency argued that requiring it to provide free discovery would violate separation of powers principles and constitute a gift of public funds. The juvenile court denied the motion, to avoid “acting in excess of its authority.”The court of appeal reversed. While no court rule, statute, or constitutional principle requires the order sought by parents, should a circumstance arise where an indigent parent’s meaningful access to the judicial process is impaired by discovery requirements, the juvenile court has the authority to fix the time, place, and manner of discovery upon terms and conditions as will serve the ends of justice. The court remanded to allow the court to exercise its discretion to decide whether any further discovery order is necessary in this case. View "In re William M.W." on Justia Law