Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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This case involves a mother, D.R., who appealed jurisdiction and disposition orders related to her six children, all of whom were adjudged dependents of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300. D.R. argued that the dependency petitions were deficient, some of the sustained jurisdictional allegations lacked substantial evidence, and her constitutional rights were violated by depriving her of her right to present additional evidence at the continued jurisdiction and disposition hearing for two of the children, and by what she characterized as a violation of her due process right to a speedy contested jurisdictional hearing.The children's fathers were not parties in this appeal. The children were born to three different fathers, referred to as father M., father V., and father H. The mother had been married to father H., but they separated after an incident of domestic violence. Father H. had a history of alcohol abuse and criminal offenses, mostly related to driving under the influence. The mother had sole legal and physical custody of the two children she had with father H., G.H. and B.H.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Two found that some of the juvenile court’s jurisdictional findings lacked the support of substantial evidence, requiring reversal of the jurisdictional and dispositional orders for four of the children. The court otherwise affirmed and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "In re B.H." on Justia Law

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The case involves a mother, Brittany B., who appealed from juvenile court orders that found her two children, B.D. and C.D., to be persons described by Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b), and placed them under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The juvenile court sustained a petition based on allegations that C.D. was born with a positive toxicology screen for opiates, and that the mother’s substance abuse placed both children at substantial risk of serious physical harm. The mother contended that the evidence was insufficient to support the court’s jurisdictional findings.The Superior Court of Los Angeles County had previously reversed the orders. The mother had tested positive for opiates during her pregnancy and at the time of C.D.'s birth. However, C.D. did not display any symptoms of withdrawal, and the mother was attentive to both children. The DCFS did not seek to detain the children, but it did open a case and seek court supervision.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Three agreed with the mother's contention and reversed the juvenile court's orders. The court found that while the mother had used prescription drugs during her pregnancy, there was no substantial evidence that the children had suffered or were at risk of suffering serious physical harm or illness as a result of the mother's substance abuse. The court also found that the mother's refusal to voluntarily submit to drug testing did not provide sufficient evidence of a substantial risk of harm to the children. The court concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile court's jurisdictional findings under section 300, subdivision (b). View "In re B.D." on Justia Law

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The case involves a minor, Andrew M., who tested positive for methadone at birth and was placed in foster care. His biological parents, S.M. and A.M., failed to reunify with him. Despite this, the juvenile court decided not to terminate the parents' parental rights, citing the parental-benefit exception, which applies if a parent shows that they maintained regular visitation with the child, the child has a substantial, positive, emotional attachment to the parents, and terminating that attachment would be detrimental to the child even considering the benefit of a new, adoptive home.The Superior Court of Orange County had previously ordered Andrew to be removed from parental custody and provided the parents with reunification services. However, the parents failed to reunify with Andrew and their services were terminated. The court then scheduled a permanency planning hearing.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three reviewed the case. Andrew's appointed appellate counsel argued that the juvenile court's decision not to terminate the parents' parental rights was an abuse of discretion. The Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA), although a respondent in this appeal, supported Andrew's counsel's position. The court agreed with Andrew's counsel and the SSA, concluding that the circumstances did not support the application of the parental-benefit exception. The court reversed the lower court's order and remanded the matter with instructions. View "In re Andrew M." on Justia Law

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In July 2023, the San Francisco Human Services Agency filed a petition alleging that three children were at risk due to the actions of their mother, M.S., and their alleged father, P.F. The Agency claimed that the children were at risk of suffering serious physical or emotional harm due to P.F.'s domestic violence towards M.S. and his substance abuse issues. The Agency also alleged that M.S. had allowed P.F. to stay in her home despite a restraining order against him. The juvenile court sustained the allegations in part, released the children to M.S., and ordered the family to participate in therapy. M.S. appealed this decision.The lower courts had previously reviewed this case and made several findings. The juvenile court found that the children were at substantial risk of suffering serious physical and/or emotional harm due to the domestic violence perpetrated by P.F. towards M.S. The court also found that P.F. had substance abuse issues which impeded his ability to care for the children. The court denied M.S.'s request to dismiss the case, declared the children dependents of the court, and ordered M.S. and the children to participate in family therapy.The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Three affirmed the decision of the lower court. The court held that an alleged father constitutes a “parent” within the meaning of section 300, subdivision (b)(1). The court also found that substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s declaration of dependency and that the court did not abuse its discretion by not granting M.S.'s request to dismiss the case and instead ordering family therapy. View "In re A.F." on Justia Law

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The case involves a mother, M.L., who has a history of substance abuse and involvement with the Department of Human Services (DHS). She has four children, all of whom have been affected by her substance abuse. The case at hand pertains to her fourth child, H.T., who was born drug-addicted. After H.T.'s birth, the court transferred his custody to DHS, which placed him with his father's relatives. M.L. was granted a disposition that allowed her to retain her parental rights while H.T. remained in the physical and legal custody of his father, D.T. However, D.T. died of a drug overdose, leaving H.T. without a legal guardian.The Circuit Court of Marion County had previously granted M.L. a disposition that allowed her to retain her parental rights while H.T. remained in the physical and legal custody of his father. After D.T.'s death, M.L., acting as a self-represented litigant, filed a motion to modify disposition to regain custody of H.T. However, the court found that M.L. had not shown a material change in circumstances warranting a less restrictive alternative than the previous disposition.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that M.L. had a long history of substance abuse and had exhausted all improvement periods and services available to her. Despite her claims of sobriety, she continued to test positive for drugs. The court concluded that there was no reasonable likelihood that the conditions of abuse and neglect could be corrected in the near future and that it was in H.T.'s best interest to terminate M.L.'s parental rights. View "In re H.T." on Justia Law

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The case involves Amber C., the mother of a two-year-old child, Kieran S., who appealed from the juvenile court’s jurisdiction findings and disposition orders after the court sustained a petition by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. The petition was filed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b), alleging that Amber's substance abuse posed a substantial risk of serious physical harm to Kieran. The Department received a referral in April 2019, stating that the parents used drugs in the child's presence. Amber tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, and morphine. Despite her positive test results, Amber denied using methamphetamine and claimed she did not use any drugs while with Kieran. After failing to cooperate with welfare checks and evading the Department, Amber absconded with Kieran.The juvenile court sustained counts under section 300, subdivision (b), alleging Amber abused substances, failed to protect Kieran from Victor’s mental and emotional issues, and absconded with Kieran. At the disposition hearing, the juvenile court declared Kieran a dependent child of the court, removed him from his parents, ordered Amber to attend a drug treatment program, and ordered reunification services. Amber appealed from the jurisdiction findings and disposition orders, arguing that there was no evidence she was under the influence of drugs when Kieran was detained and that there was no evidence of neglect or risk of harm to Kieran in her care.The Supreme Court granted Amber’s petition for review and transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal with directions to vacate its prior decision and reconsider Amber’s appeal in light of In re N.R., which held that substance abuse is not prima facie evidence of a parent’s inability to provide regular care to a child of tender years. The Court of Appeal found that substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s finding Amber’s drug abuse created a substantial risk of physical harm to Kieran and affirmed the juvenile court’s jurisdiction findings and disposition orders. View "In re Kieran S." on Justia Law

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The case involves a father, H.A., who sought to vacate orders of the juvenile court that terminated his visitation rights and the mother’s reunification services, and set a hearing pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. The father argued that the inquiry into the minors’ potential Indian heritage in this dependency case was insufficient and failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The San Joaquin County Human Services Agency had filed a section 300 petition on behalf of the minors based on the parents’ substance abuse, domestic violence, and the mother’s untreated mental health issues. Both parents denied having any Native American ancestry.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District agreed with the father's contention. The court found that the inquiry of relatives and family members about the minors’ potential Indian heritage was necessary to meet the requirements of the ICWA. The court noted that the Agency had contact with the maternal and paternal grandmothers and the paternal great-aunt, but did not ask them, or any other relatives, about possible Native American ancestry.The court vacated the juvenile court’s finding that the minors are not Indian children within the meaning of the ICWA and remanded the case to the juvenile court for further proceedings to address compliance with the inquiry and notice provisions of the ICWA. The court also issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the respondent juvenile court to vacate the ICWA findings and conduct further proceedings to determine whether the ICWA inquiry and notice requirements have been met. The court emphasized the obligations of the parents’ and minors’ counsel, the juvenile court, and the Agency under the ICWA. View "H.A. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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A fatal motor vehicle accident involving a juvenile driver led to a delinquency petition filed against the driver, who later pleaded nolo contendere to two charges of driving so as to endanger, resulting in death. The parents of the deceased, who were present for the plea, subsequently filed a motion in the Family Court seeking access to the transcript of the proceeding where the juvenile driver was certified and sentenced. The Family Court denied the motion, leading to an appeal by the deceased's parents, who were not parties to the case.The Family Court's denial of the motion was based on the consideration of the "good cause" standard, as stipulated by the statute and precedent. The court found that the parents failed to show how they would not be able to seek restitution for their damages without the transcript. The court also noted that the parents and their attorneys were present during the proceedings for which they requested a transcript. Balancing the interests of the state in protecting the confidentiality of juvenile justice proceedings against the interests of the parents, the court concluded that the state's interests outweighed the parents' interests.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Family Court's order. The Supreme Court noted that the parents failed to meet the standard for production of confidential juvenile records of Family Court proceedings. The court also disagreed with the parents' argument that the transcript might prove helpful in the event of inconsistencies in the juvenile's testimony, describing this argument as speculative. The court concluded that the Family Court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion. View "In re C.R." on Justia Law

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The case involves a nonmarital child who was removed from the mother's custody due to neglect. The Department of Children and Families filed a care and protection petition in the Juvenile Court. The father, who had established paternity but had not sought custody prior to the filing of the petition, was granted temporary custody. The mother later waived her right to a hearing and stipulated that she was unfit, leading to the Juvenile Court judge awarding "permanent" custody to the father. However, the child filed a motion to dismiss the care and protection case, arguing that the Juvenile Court's custody order was sufficient to award permanent custody to the father.The Juvenile Court judge denied the child's motion, citing the statutory scheme which addresses the rights and responsibilities of the parents of nonmarital children. This scheme provides that the mother of a nonmarital child "shall" have custody "[i]n the absence of an order or judgment of a [P]robate and [F]amily [C]ourt [judge] relative to custody." The current practice in the Juvenile Court is to require the parent, who has been awarded permanent custody of the child in connection with a care and protection action, to seek an order of custody from the Probate and Family Court under the nonmarital child statutory scheme.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the Juvenile Court judge's order denying the child's motion to dismiss the care and protection case. The court agreed that the current practice best reflects the Legislature's intent and harmonizes the two statutory schemes. The court also concluded that the practice complies with due process. View "Care and Protection of Jaylen" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) in Rhode Island, which was held in contempt by the Family Court for failing to place a minor, N.B., in a specific facility, St. Mary’s Home for Children, as ordered by the court. N.B., who has behavioral issues and Type I juvenile diabetes, was initially placed in Hasbro Children’s Hospital after her mother refused to take her home due to safety concerns. The Family Court ordered DCYF to place N.B. at St. Mary’s, but the facility refused to admit her due to her medical needs and behavioral issues. Despite DCYF's efforts to secure a placement for N.B., including contacting multiple potential placements and attempting to hire nurses to monitor N.B.'s diabetic care needs, no suitable placement was available.The Family Court found DCYF in contempt for failing to place N.B. at St. Mary’s, rejecting DCYF's argument that it was impossible to comply with the placement order. The court ordered DCYF to pay a daily sanction until it complied with the order. DCYF appealed the contempt order, arguing that the Family Court abused its discretion by finding that DCYF had not exercised reasonable efforts to place N.B. and that it was impossible to comply with the placement order.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island vacated the Family Court’s contempt order. The Supreme Court found that DCYF had made substantial efforts to place N.B. at St. Mary’s and other appropriate facilities, but compliance with the placement order was outside the department’s control due to circumstances such as the refusal of facilities to accept N.B. and ongoing nursing shortages related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supreme Court concluded that the Family Court had abused its discretion in finding that DCYF had not used reasonable efforts to place N.B. and in holding DCYF in contempt. View "In re N.B." on Justia Law