Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries
In re Rourke & Rourke
In this case, Alexandra Gamble (Mother) and Sean Rourke (Father) are divorced and have three children. They had a final parenting plan approved by the 10th Circuit Court-Portsmouth Family Division, which considered Father's residence in Costa Rica and Mother's in New Hampshire. However, Father later decided to reside in New Hampshire. As a result, Father filed a petition to modify the parenting plan, arguing that due to the change in residences, it would be in the children’s best interests to modify the parenting schedule.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the decision of the lower court to modify the parenting plan, citing that the lower court exercised its discretion sustainably. The Court held that the trial court correctly interpreted the parenting plan when it ruled that modification was appropriate under RSA 461-A:11, I(g). This statute allows for modification of a parenting plan if changes in the distances between the parents' residences affect the children's best interest.Mother's argument that her due process rights were violated because the trial court considered grounds not raised by Father was rejected. The Supreme Court held that the trial court did not base its decision on these factors. Instead, it found that Father met his burden to modify the parenting plan under RSA 461-A:11, I(g), which was the ground Father had indeed raised.The Supreme Court also rejected Mother's argument that the trial court violated her procedural due process rights by making changes to the parenting plan that were not sought in Father's petition. The Court concluded that the trial court had statutory authority to make these modifications once it found that a statutory predicate circumstance is satisfied, as per RSA 461-A:11, I. View "In re Rourke & Rourke" on Justia Law
State v. Cummings
The case revolves around the interpretation of the term "resources" as used in the criminal restitution statute, Minnesota Statutes section 611A.045, subdivision 1(a)(2). Specifically, the case examines whether the equity in a defendant's home, which he co-owns with his spouse, can be considered as a "resource" when awarding restitution. The appellant, Joshua Henry Baion Cummings (Baion), was convicted of one count of theft by false representation and was ordered to pay restitution. The district court considered the equity in Baion’s home as one of his resources when determining the amount of restitution. Baion appealed, arguing that the equity in a home owned with a non-defendant spouse cannot be considered a resource under the restitution statute. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The Minnesota Supreme Court also affirmed, holding that the term “resources” in the restitution statute unambiguously means useful and valuable possessions, and that home equity, even when the home is co-owned with a non-defendant spouse, may be such a possession. View "State v. Cummings" on Justia Law
Marriage of Tara and Robert D.
In this case, a father, Robert D., appealed a final custody order claiming that the court had abused its discretion by not granting a continuance after his attorney withdrew from the case on the day before the trial. Robert argued that this action deprived him of the ability to retain new trial counsel. The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One, State of California, found that the trial court had indeed abused its discretion by refusing to assess how long a continuance might be required for Robert to obtain a new lawyer and balance that against other pertinent circumstances. However, the appellate court also found that Robert failed to demonstrate that the court’s error resulted in a “miscarriage of justice,” thus the court affirmed the final custody order. The court noted that while the trial court should have performed the necessary inquiry about the length of the continuance being sought, the error did not necessarily lead to a fundamentally unfair trial. The appellate court, therefore, maintained the trial court's decision awarding Tara sole legal custody and both parents equal physical custody of their children. View "Marriage of Tara and Robert D." on Justia Law
LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C.
In this case, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that under Alabama's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, the definition of a "child" includes those who are unborn, regardless of their location (either inside or outside a biological uterus). The case involves multiple sets of parents who had embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and stored at the Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C. An incident occurred in which a patient at the hospital where the center was located wandered into the cryogenic nursery and removed several embryos, causing their deaths. The parents sued the center and the hospital for wrongful death under Alabama's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and also asserted common-law claims of negligence. The trial court dismissed the wrongful-death and negligence/wantonness claims, concluding that the embryos did not fit the definition of a "person" or "child" and thus their loss could not give rise to a wrongful-death claim. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the lower court's dismissal of the wrongful-death claims, holding that the Act applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location. The court affirmed the dismissal of the negligence and wantonness claims as moot, given the court's ruling on the wrongful-death claims. View "LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, P.C." on Justia Law
Marriage of Tara and Robert D.
In this case, a father, Robert D., appealed a final custody order following a divorce, arguing that the court abused its discretion by refusing to grant a continuance after his attorney withdrew from the case the day before the trial was set to begin. The Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District in California agreed that when a court allows a lawyer to withdraw on the eve of trial, it has a responsibility to assess the length of a continuance that would be required for the affected party to obtain a new lawyer and balance that against other pertinent circumstances. The court determined that the trial court failed to make this assessment, constituting an abuse of discretion. However, the Court of Appeal found that Robert D. had not demonstrated that the court's error resulted in a "miscarriage of justice." As such, the custody order was affirmed. View "Marriage of Tara and Robert D." on Justia Law
Booker v. Thomas
The Office of Child Support (OCS) filed a parentage action against Cody Thomas, alleging that he was the biological father of a child born in 2017. However, the complaint was lodged in 2021, beyond the two-year limitations period specified under 15C V.S.A. § 402. The Superior Court, Windham Unit, Family Division dismissed the action due to lack of standing. The OCS appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, arguing that its standing should be recognized as the action served the child's best interests. The Vermont Supreme Court, however, upheld the lower court's decision. The court determined that the two-year limitation for challenging parentage under § 402 was clear and unambiguous. It further noted that the statute provided for exceptions to this rule, none of which applied in this case. The court stated that allowing parentage claims beyond the two-year limit posed risks to a child's financial and psychological stability. Therefore, enforcing finality in parentage actions was in children's best interests, aligning with the overall purpose of the Vermont Parentage Act. The court concluded that the OCS lacked standing to challenge the child's parentage and affirmed the dismissal of the case. View "Booker v. Thomas" on Justia Law
State of Iowa v. Cole
In Iowa in 2021, a mother of six, Paula Cole, left her five oldest children, ranging in age from 12 to five, asleep at home while she left to go to Walmart for groceries, taking her youngest, an infant, with her. While she was gone, a disagreement arose between two of the children, leading one to leave their apartment building. A neighbor, with whom the family had an open-door policy, helped the children and eventually called 911 due to the disagreement and the child leaving the building. Upon return, Cole was charged with child endangerment. She was convicted and appealed the decision. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction, but Cole sought further review from the Supreme Court of Iowa.The Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the conviction, holding that Cole did not create a risk that violated section 726.6(1)(a), which defines child endangerment as knowingly acting in a manner that creates a substantial risk to a child's physical, mental, or emotional health or safety. The court concluded that while leaving her children home alone could potentially pose risks, these were not risks created by Cole's decision to go shopping, but rather, they were ordinary risks of everyday life. The court also noted that no evidence suggested the home was unsafe, the older children could help care for the younger ones, and a neighbor was available to assist. The court stressed that not all risks children encounter are created by their parents or caregivers, and life inherently poses risks. Additionally, the court stated that a parent does not create a risk if the risk is part of the background risk of ordinary life. View "State of Iowa v. Cole" on Justia Law
USA v. Ortega
In this case, Miguel Angel Ortega, who pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, appealed the application of a two-level sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice. The enhancement was based on a conversation he had with his wife regarding a letter of support she was writing for his sentencing proceeding. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated Ortega's sentence and remanded for resentencing.The court reasoned that Ortega's conduct, i.e., advising his wife about what to say in her letter to the court and in her statement at the sentencing hearing, did not constitute obstruction of justice. The government had argued that Ortega was unlawfully influencing a witness's testimony and directing his wife to attribute his conduct to drug addiction, which she lacked personal knowledge of. However, the court found no evidence that Ortega urged his wife to provide false or misleading information. It also noted that the facts Ortega instructed his wife to include in her statement were all supported by the factual record.The court clarified that the obstruction-of-justice enhancement applies if: (1) the defendant willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of the instant offense of conviction, and (2) the obstructive conduct related to (A) the defendant’s offense of conviction and any relevant conduct; or (B) a closely related offense.In this case, the court concluded, the government failed to show that Ortega's conduct met these requirements. Therefore, the court vacated Ortega's sentence and remanded the case for resentencing without the obstruction-of-justice enhancement. View "USA v. Ortega" on Justia Law
Falconi v. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct.
In the State of Nevada, Alexander M. Falconi, operating as the press organization Our Nevada Judges, petitioned against the Eighth Judicial District Court, the Honorable Charles J. Hoskin, District Judge, and parties in interest, Troy A. Minter and Jennifer R. Easler. Falconi challenged local rules and a statute that required certain court proceedings to be closed to the public.Falconi filed a media request for camera access in a child custody proceeding between Minter and Easler. Minter opposed the request, arguing it was not in the child's best interest to have his personal information publicly available. The district court denied Falconi's request, citing that the case was sealed and thus required to be private according to local rules.The Supreme Court of the State of Nevada held that the public has a constitutional right to access court proceedings. The local rules and the statute, NRS 125.080, requiring the district court to close proceedings, bypassed the exercise of judicial discretion and were not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest. Thus, the court held that these local rules and NRS 125.080 were unconstitutional to the extent they permitted closed family court proceedings without exercising judicial discretion.The court instructed the district court to reverse its order denying media access in the underlying child custody case. The court emphasized the importance of public access to court proceedings, including family court proceedings, which historically have been open to the public. The court rejected the automatic closure of such proceedings and emphasized the necessity of case-by-case judicial discretion in deciding whether to close proceedings. View "Falconi v. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct." on Justia Law
Coatney v. Ancestry.com DNA, LLC
This case involves a group of plaintiffs who were minors at the time their guardians purchased and activated DNA test kits from Ancestry.com. The plaintiffs, through their guardians, provided their DNA samples to Ancestry.com for genetic testing and analysis. The plaintiffs later sued Ancestry.com, alleging that the company violated their privacy rights by disclosing their confidential genetic information to another business. Ancestry.com moved to compel arbitration based on a clause in its Terms & Conditions agreement, which the plaintiffs' guardians had agreed to when they purchased and activated the test kits.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, applying Illinois law, held that the plaintiffs were not bound to arbitrate their claims under the agreement between their guardians and Ancestry.com. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs neither signed the agreement nor created Ancestry.com accounts, and did not independently engage with Ancestry.com's services. Furthermore, the court refused to bind the plaintiffs to the agreement based on equitable principles, including the doctrine of direct benefits estoppel. The court noted that while the plaintiffs theoretically could benefit from Ancestry.com's services, there were no allegations that the plaintiffs had actually accessed their DNA test results.The court therefore affirmed the district court's decision denying Ancestry.com's motion to compel arbitration. The court's holding clarified that under Illinois law, a minor cannot be bound to an arbitration agreement that their guardian agreed to on their behalf, unless the minor independently engaged with the services provided under the agreement or directly benefited from the agreement. View "Coatney v. Ancestry.com DNA, LLC" on Justia Law