Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Juvenile Law
In re N.F.
Defendant-Mother appealed the juvenile court’s order denying her post-permanency Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 petition that asked the court to grant her reunification services with her thirteen-year-old son N.F. The juvenile court terminated its dependency jurisdiction over N.F. in January 2021 after appointing paternal uncle as his legal guardian. Mother does not contest the merits of the court’s denial of her section 388 petition. Rather, she argued the juvenile court’s legal guardianship order must be reversed because the court and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (Department) did not comply with their initial inquiry duties under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and related California law.The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that Mother had the right to appeal from the court’s legal guardianship order, including the court’s implicit finding it continued to have no reason to know N.F. was an Indian child and the Department had satisfied its duty of ICWA inquiry. However, the time to so do expired many months ago. The court explained that Mother cannot now use her appeal from her post-permanency section 388 petition to challenge the legal guardianship order and findings made at the section 366.26 hearing—including the finding that ICWA did not apply. Further, the court explained that as the juvenile court did not vacate its order terminating its dependency jurisdiction over N.F. when it heard Mother’s section 388 petition—and a section 300 petition was not being filed on N.F.’s behalf—the court’s and the Department’s continuing duty of inquiry under section 224.2 was not implicated. View "In re N.F." on Justia Law
In re Jayden M.
Mother has seven children by several different fathers: the child at issue in this case—Jayden M. (born 2021). On November 19, 2021, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the Department) filed a petition asking the juvenile court to exert jurisdiction over Jayden on two grounds. On May 2, 2022, the juvenile court held the dispositional hearing. The court removed Jayden from Mother’s custody and also bypassed reunification services under subdivisions (b)(10) and (b)(11) of section 361.5. More specifically, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that bypass was proper under these provisions because (1) Mother’s reunification services or parental rights for Jayden’s older half-siblings had been terminated, and (2) Mother’s most recent four months of effort to address her drug addiction—did not eliminate the court’s “concerns” in light of her 20-year history of drug abuse problems and prior dependency cases. On appeal, Mother’s chief argument on appeal is that the juvenile court’s order bypassing reunification services was not supported by the record. The Second Appellate District affirmed the juvenile court’s order. The court held that the juvenile court’s finding is further supported by evidence that Mother has repeatedly relapsed after treatment and/or periods of sobriety in the past. This finding is consistent with the conventional wisdom and practical reality that short and recent periods of sobriety are often not enough to counter a longstanding pattern of use and relapse. Thus, substantial evidence supports the juvenile court’s finding that the effort underlying Mother’s brief period of sobriety after decades of drug abuse is not “reasonable.” View "In re Jayden M." on Justia Law
Hunter v. McMahon
Niagara County’s Child Protective Services successfully petitioned in Niagara County Family Court to strip Plaintiff of her parental rights over her minor son. Plaintiff appealed the Family Court’s decision. While that appeal was pending, she brought suit in federal court against officials and entities involved in terminating her parental rights. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Second Circuit vacated the judgment insofar as the district court denied Plaintiff’s motions for leave to amend and for additional time to serve defendants. The court held that the RookerFeldman doctrine does not apply when an appeal remains pending in state court. Rooker-Feldman applies only after the state proceedings have ended. View "Hunter v. McMahon" on Justia Law
In re A.H.
Newborn A.H. was placed in a foster home. The Agency reported that it had denied a request for placement by J.B., a “nonrelative extended family member” (NREFM, Welf. & Inst. Code 362.7). J.B. filed a “Relative Information,” requesting that A.H. live with her. The Agency objected on the ground that J.B. was not a relative for purposes of the proceedings. The juvenile court agreed, stating that it independently considered placement with several relatives or with J.B. and denied placement with those individuals “for the reasons stated in the Social Worker’s Report.” J.B. filed a section 388 “Request to Change Court Order.” The juvenile court summarily denied J.B.’s petition, finding that the request did not state new evidence or a change of circumstances, and did not promote A.H.’s best interest. J.B. filed a notice of appeal. The Agency reported that in the dependency case of A.H.’s half-sibling, J.B. “created a division” between the Agency and the parents, falsely accusing the caregiver of neglect. The juvenile court terminated parental rights, selecting adoption as the permanent plan.The court of appeal dismissed J.B.’s appeal from the denial of her petition, the refusal to consider her relative information form, and the placement order. Although J.B. may have an “interest” in A.H. that is sufficient for filing a section 388 petition, she does not have a legally cognizable interest in A.H.’s placement such that she has standing to challenge the juvenile court’s placement decision. View "In re A.H." on Justia Law
Carolina Youth Action Project v. Alan Wilson
South Carolina law makes it a crime for elementary and secondary school students to act “disorderly” or in a “boisterous manner,”; use “obscene or profane language”; or “interfere with,” “loiter about,” or “act in an obnoxious manner” in (or sometimes near) a school. Four students who had been referred or charged under the disorderly conduct or disturbing schools laws, and a nonprofit organization that advocates for at-risk youth filed a putative class action challenging both laws as unconstitutionally vague. After denying a motion to dismiss, the district court certified one main class and two subclasses under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2). The court held that both laws were unconstitutionally vague as applied to elementary and secondary school students, and it permanently enjoined future enforcement of the disorderly conduct law against those students. South Carolina’s Attorney General—appealed, lodging multiple challenges to the district court’s rulings. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court reasoned that the district court committed no abuse of discretion here—not just because the challenged laws are facially invalid as applied to elementary and secondary school students but also because the subclasses demonstrated ongoing injury by the retention of existing records. A delinquency adjudication under South Carolina law may impair a minor’s future practice of law, application for military service, use of a driver’s license, and educational opportunities. Having concluded the laws may not be constitutionally enforced against South Carolina’s elementary and secondary students, the court saw no reason for allowing such continuing injuries to stand. View "Carolina Youth Action Project v. Alan Wilson" on Justia Law
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