Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries
Ex parte The HuffingtonPost.com
The HuffingtonPost.com, Inc. ("HuffPost"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying HuffPost's motion for a summary judgment based on the immunity provided in the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 230, and to enter a summary judgment in its favor pursuant to the immunity provided in 47 U.S.C. § 230. K.G.S. petitioned to adopt Baby Doe; the birth mother contested the adoption. The birth mother contacted Mirah Ruben, a contributor to HuffPost, and shared her version of events leading to her contesting the adoption. HuffPost published two online articles about Baby Doe’s adoption, including the full name of the birth mother, K.G.S. and included images of Baby Doe. After the articles were published, Claudia D’Arcy, a resident of New York, created a Facebook page dedicated to reuniting the birth mother and Baby Doe, which attached the HuffPost articles. The Facebook page also identified the birth mother and K.G.S. by name, and images of Baby Doe. After the creation of the Facebook page, K.G.S. stated she was “inundated with appallingly malicious and persistent cyber-bullying.” K.G.S.’ attorney compelled Facebook to take down the page because it violated Alabama’s Adoption Code. Then K.G.S. sued HuffPost, Mirah Riben, and a number of other defendants alleging that the defendants had made statements relating to the adoption that subjected them to civil liability and had unlawfully disclosed confidential information about the adoption "to create a sensationalized, salacious, and scandal-driven trial in the court of public opinion to pressure K.G.S. into relinquishing her custody of Baby Doe." After review of the circumstances of this case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded HuffPost demonstrated a clear legal right to mandamus relief, and its petition was granted. View "Ex parte The HuffingtonPost.com" on Justia Law
In re S.H.
In May 2021 the Agency received a report of general neglect of an infant. A social worker met with Mother and her partner, Anthony; both reported that there was no known Native American ancestry. The dependency petition stated that a social worker had completed an Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. 1901, ICWA) inquiry. At a hearing, Mother’s counsel reported no known heritage. Based on Anthony’s response, the court ordered further inquiry (Welf. & Inst. Code 224.2(e)). A social worker received a voicemail from Anthony, who apparently accidentally left his phone on, and discussed with Mother a plan to claim that the minor had Indian ancestry to delay the child's removal. In August, Mother stated she was not sure whether she had Native American ancestry. A maternal great-grandmother reported that the minor’s great-great-great-great grandparents “told her she has Blackfoot Cherokee,” but she had no documentation regarding the possible affiliation.The Agency recommended that the juvenile court find that there was “no reason to believe or reason to know” that the minor was an Indian child. The minor was placed with a maternal relative. At a September 2021 disposition hearing, the court found, without prejudice to future research, that ICWA did not apply. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the Agency erred by not interviewing additional family members, reversal of the early dependency order was not warranted simply because the Agency’s ongoing obligations had not yet been satisfied. View "In re S.H." on Justia Law
Office of Public Advocacy v. Berezkin f/n/a Smith et al.
The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Office of Public Advocacy’s (OPA) petition for review of whether counsel provided through Alaska Legal Service Corporation’s (ALSC) pro bono program was counsel “provided by a public agency” within the meaning of Flores v. Flores, 598 P.2d 890 (Alaska 1979) and OPA’s enabling statute. The Supreme Court concluded such counsel was indeed “provided by a public agency” and affirmed the superior court’s order appointing OPA to represent an indigent parent in a child custody case. View "Office of Public Advocacy v. Berezkin f/n/a Smith et al." on Justia Law
Layton v. Dea
Orville Jenkins appealed a superior court’s division of property following his divorce. The Alaska Supreme Court rejected his arguments that the superior court: (1) improperly denied his motion to continue trial; (2) incorrectly allocated marital debt to him; (3) improperly authorized sale of the marital home before finalizing the property division; and (4) showed bias against him. But the Supreme Court agreed with his arguments that it was error to: (1) decline to consider whether his wife’s separate property was transmuted to marital property through contract; and (2) find that no portion of earnings on the wife’s separate investments was marital when the taxes on those earnings were paid with marital funds. The judgment was thus reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Layton v. Dea" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of L.C.S.
A child was taken from his mother after she brought him to the hospital. Hospital staff found the child had serious injuries. The father, who lived separately from the mother, asked that the child be placed with him. The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Family recommended out-of-home placement, citing concern for the child’s safety. A court determined the child should have been placed with his godparents, based on the Department’s recommendation. The father moved for discretionary review of the shelter care order, arguing the court erred because the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal from a parent. The Court of Appeals denied review, and a panel of the court declined to modify its ruling. The father than moved for discretionary review by the Oregon Supreme Court, which was granted. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court became moot, as the father ultimately agreed to an order of dependency in a subsequent hearing. The Supreme Court still opined on what “reasonable efforts” the Department had to make before a child could be removed for a parent or guardian’s care. The Department argued (and the trial court agreed) that given the acute and emergent circumstances of the case, it did not violate the reasonable efforts requirement. The father argued there was no such exception for emergent circumstances. The Supreme Court provided additional guidance as to what constituted reasonable efforts, and here, held the trial court erred in excusing the Department from making reasonable efforts to place the child with the father. View "In re Dependency of L.C.S." on Justia Law
Desmet v. Washington
In February 2016, three-month-old A.K., daughter of respondents Michelle Desmet and Sandro Kasco, was taken into protective custody after she suffered a spiral fracture to her left femur. When the parents could not explain the injury, A.K. was placed with her paternal aunt for six months while the Department of Social Health Services (DSHS) initiated an investigation. By August, A.K. was returned to her parents and a dependency action was dismissed. In August 2018, the parents sued the DSHS (the State) for negligent investigation, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and invasion of privacy by false light (false light) based on the Department’s allegedly harmful investigation and issuance of a letter indicating that allegations of child abuse/neglect against Desmet were founded (the founded letter). The Department moved for summary judgment, arguing it was immune from suit under RCW 4.24.595(2) because its actions in A.K.’s dependency proceedings were taken pursuant to the juvenile court’s order to place A.K. with her aunt. The trial court denied summary judgment and entered a final order finding that no immunity applied. The Department appealed on the immunity issue, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Department claimed on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court that the Court of Appeals’ decision rendered RCW 4.24.595(2) meaningless and that the court erroneously refused to consider the legislative history of RCW 4.24.595(2), which, in the Department’s view, was enacted to bar claims like those brought by the parents. The Supreme Court found the unambiguous text of RCW 4.24.595(2) did not grant the Department immunity for all actions in an investigation of child abuse/neglect that might coincide with a court order in related dependency proceedings. The Court of Appeals was affirmed and the matter remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Desmet v. Washington" on Justia Law
Farmer v. Farmer
In this divorce action, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part orders entered by two different circuit court judges related to James Farmer's distributional interest in Lakota Lake Camp, LLC and orders related to the release of funds to James's wife, Lori Lieberman, that were previously held by the clerk of court following the execution sale of property owned by Lakota Lake, holding that the court erred in part.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the collection court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear and determine Lori's application for a charging order; (2) the divorce court erred in ordering the release of excess sale proceeds to Lori; and (3) the collection court's order denying Lakota Lake's motion to release to the company the excess sale proceeds from the sale of Granite Perch, the last remaining property owned by Lakota Lake, to Lori must be vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings on the issue. View "Farmer v. Farmer" on Justia Law
Beedle v. Beedle
In this post-dissolution action, the Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court granting Appellant's motion to amend a stipulated order, holding that the motion to amend the stipulated order was untimely.After the parties divorced they filed various post-judgment motions. The parties then reached an agreement and presented their stipulations to the court. The court executed a stipulated order without holding a hearing. Appellant later filed a motion to amend the order by inserting a vehicle or serial identification number to each alleged corresponding item of personal property listed in the stipulated order. The district court granted the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order below, holding that amending the stipulated order constituted a substantive change, and therefore, Appellant's motion should have been considered pursuant to Rule 59(e) as a motion to alter or amend the judgment rather than dismissed as untimely. View "Beedle v. Beedle" on Justia Law
Moran v. Moran
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated in part and remanded in part the divorce judgment entered by the district court on Husband's complaint, holding that the judgment was improper was to the property division and attorney fees.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) delineation of Wife's employment retirement accounts as marital or nonmarital property must be calculated pursuant to a three-step process for division of property in a divorce matter; (2) the relevant date for determining the marital and nonmarital portions of Husband's retirement accounts was the date of the entry of the divorce judgment; (3) the trial court erred by double counting Wife's Vanguard retirement accounts; and (4) because the property division portion of the judgment must be vacated, the trial court's denial of Wife's request for attorney fees also must be vacated. View "Moran v. Moran" on Justia Law
Peck v. McCann, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellee and attorney Jessica Peck represented parents and other family members in child abuse cases in Colorado juvenile courts. She brought suit against Defendant-Appellants, Colorado Executive Director of Health Services Michelle Barnes and Second Judicial District Attorney Beth McCann, to challenge the constitutionality of § 19-1-307 of the Colorado Children’s Code Records and Information Act (“Children’s Code”). Peck alleged Section 307 violated her First Amendment rights by restricting her disclosures and thereby chilling her speech on these matters. The district court agreed and struck down both of Section 307’s penalty provisions. The Tenth Circuit thought Section 307(1) and Section 307(4) had different scopes due to their distinct language and legislative histories. As a result, the Court found Peck could challenge Section 307(4)’s penalty as unconstitutional, but has not properly challenged Section 307(1). The Court thus reversed the district court’s order insofar as it invalidated Section 307(1). View "Peck v. McCann, et al." on Justia Law