Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Timothy W. and Julie W. were in the midst of a dissolution of their marriage. The underlying dispute here relates to Julie’s disclosure of certain facts about Timothy’s past (the sensitive information) that Julie revealed to her codefendant and private investigator, Ronnie Echavarria, Sr. (Echavarria), in connection with the dissolution case. Echavarria revealed the sensitive information to at least one other person, which resulted in several other individuals learning the information. Timothy filed a civil case against Julie and Echavarria (defendants), alleging 12 separate causes of action, many of which were duplicative or not properly pleaded as separate claims. Defendants moved pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP statute) to dismiss. The trial court granted the motions as to 10 of the 12 causes of action, all based in tort, and denied the motion as to two contract-based claims. Timothy appealed, arguing the court erred by granting the motion. Julie cross-appealed, arguing the remaining two causes of action should also have been dismissed. The Court of Appeal concluded that Timothy’s claims directly arose from the dissolution case, and that all of the claims were barred by the litigation privilege. His contract claims were barred on several additional grounds. Accordingly, the Court found that the trial court properly granted defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion as to the tort claims and incorrectly denied it as to the two breach of contract claims. View "Timothy W. v. Julie W." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued the County of Los Angeles and other county defendants (the County) for removing her son, J.G., from her care. The County demurred. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. It found the County was immune from suit and Plaintiff failed to allege a mandatory duty sufficient to overcome immunity. Plaintiff appealed and alleged a mandatory duty and, in the alternative, the court should have allowed her to amend her complaint. The court later denied Plaintiff’s motion to tax expert witness fees.   In a consolidated appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Plaintiff leave to amend. Plaintiff had the burden to establish a reasonable possibility she could amend the complaint to state a claim. She says the determination of whether the collateral contacts provision created a mandatory duty is a factual issue and she “can likely identify more” collateral contacts. However, the court explained that the collateral contacts provision gives social workers discretion to determine which contacts are necessary. As a matter of law, it does not create a mandatory duty. View "Thompson v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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In this case, which orginated from a marital dissolution action, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court's decision to award attorney's fees based on one of the party's frivolous motions to disqualify the other's attorney. The appellate court determined that the fact that the underlying action was voluntarily dismissed did not divest the court of jurisdiction to issue the award of attorney's fees. View "Marriage of Blake & Langer" on Justia Law

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A.C. (Mother) is the mother of E.C., now three years old. In 2020, E.C. was taken into protective custody after Mother’s domestic violence-related arrest, and, in 2021, she was made a dependent of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivisions (b)(1) and (j).1 Mother timely appealed the juvenile court’s order terminating her parental rights under section 366.26.2 E.C.’s alleged father, Ed. C., is not a party to the appeal. Mother’s sole claim on appeal is that Kern County Department of Human Services (the Department) failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978(ICWA) and related California law with respect to its duty of “further inquiry,” which was triggered by information that maternal great-grandmother and two maternal great-uncles were enrolled members of the Apache tribe   The Fifth Appellate District conditionally reversed the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA does not apply and remanded the matter to the juvenile court with directions to order the Department to comply with the inquiry and documentation provisions set forth in section 224.2, subdivisions (b) and (e), and rule 5.481(a)(5). The court further explained that if, after determining that an adequate inquiry was made consistent, the juvenile court finds that ICWA applies, the court shall vacate its existing order and proceed in compliance with ICWA and related California law. If the court instead finds that ICWA does not apply, its ICWA finding shall be reinstated. In all other respects, the court’s orders terminating Mother’s parental rights are affirmed. View "In re E.C." on Justia Law

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A mother appeals an order terminating parental rights over her son, based on a deficient initial inquiry about Indian ancestry. The only source of information about ancestry was the mother. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services could have satisfied its inquiry obligations by asking for contact information and making a few phone calls.   The Second Appellate District conditionally reversed and remanded to allow the Department and juvenile court fully to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. Section 1901 et seq.) (the Act) and related California law. The court reasoned that because the Department does not argue the issue and because the effect tribal involvement may have had on this case is unknown, the son’s adoptive placement does not establish harmlessness. The court held that, after completing the initial inquiry, there is no reason to believe the son is an Indian child, the court shall reinstate its order terminating parental rights. View "In re Oscar H." on Justia Law

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M.H. (Father) and A.C. (Mother) are the parents of K.H., now 20 months old. Due to his parents’ drug use, K.H. was taken into protective custody following his birth and made a dependent of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1).1 The juvenile court subsequently terminated Mother’s and Father’s parental rights under section 366.26,2 and Father timely appealed. The sole claim advanced by Father is the alleged violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and related California law. Father contends Kern County Department of Human Services (the Department) and the juvenile court failed to comply with their affirmative and continuing duties of inquiry under section 224.2, subdivision (a), the Department failed to comply with its broad duty of inquiry set forth under section 224.2, subdivision (b), and remand for an adequate inquiry is required.   The Fifth Appellate conditionally reversed the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA does not apply and the matter is remanded to the juvenile court with directions to order the Department to comply with the inquiry and documentation provisions set forth in section 224.2, subdivision (b), and rule 5.481(a)(5). If, after determining that an adequate inquiry was made consistent with the reasoning in this opinion, the court finds that ICWA applies, the court shall vacate its existing order and proceed in compliance with ICWA and related California law. If the court instead finds that ICWA does not apply, its ICWA finding. View "In re K.H." on Justia Law

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Father of the minor M.R. appealed a trial court’s judgment after it freed the minor from father’s custody and control, and freed the minor for adoption by the maternal great-grandmother (grandmother). Father contended the court failed to comply with the inquiry and notice requirements under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) because: (1) the court-appointed investigator and the court failed to investigate extended family members; and (2) the court made no findings as to whether the minor was an Indian child. The Court of Appeal conditionally reversed the judgment and remanded for limited proceedings to ensure compliance with the ICWA. View "Adoption of M.R." on Justia Law

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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

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A.H. (Mother) and J.H. (Father) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating their parental rights to their two-year-old son, G.H., at the permanent plan selection and implementation hearing held under California Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. G.H. was detained from his parents’ custody two days after he was born when both he and Mother tested positive for methamphetamine. Mother and Father were homeless at the time, and had been struggling with methamphetamine abuse for approximately eight years. Father admitted he did not discourage Mother’s drug use during pregnancy. The day before G.H. was detained, Mother, G.H.’s maternal great aunt, and his maternal grandmother denied Native American ancestry. Father claimed he was a “small percent” Cherokee, but he acknowledged he was not registered as a member of the tribe. On appeal, Mother and Father contend the juvenile court erred in finding that a statutory exception to terminating the parental rights of an adoptable child did not apply. They also contended the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) and the court did not meet their obligations under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and related state law to investigate G.H.’s Native American background. The Court of Appeal found nothing in the record suggested SSA or the court made any effort to use social media as a means of contacting the paternal grandmother for the purposes of determining ancestry, so it conditionally reversed the termination and remanded for the agency to conduct further inquiry. View "In re G.H." on Justia Law

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Appellant appealed from juvenile dependency jurisdiction and disposition orders concerning his daughter. The juvenile court removed Daughter from her parents’ custody; ordered Daughter suitably placed; denied Mother reunification services pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5, subdivisions (b)(10)-(11); and granted reunification services for Father. Father appealed the jurisdiction findings and disposition order. The sole issue raised in his opening brief was whether the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the Department) complied with its obligations under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and related California law.   The Second Appellate District dismissed the appeal finding that it is moot. The court explained that two courts have recently held—in appeals from orders terminating parental rights—that additional ICWA-related inquiry or notice efforts by a juvenile court or child welfare agency while a case is on appeal will not moot deficiencies in an ICWA inquiry at the time a notice of appeal is filed. However, the opinions do not concern the procedural posture here: an ICWA appeal at the jurisdiction and disposition stage where there will necessarily be further dependency proceedings in the juvenile court (at which continuing ICWA duties apply) and a basis for a later appeal if for some reason the remedial ICWA investigation the Department is now undertaking falls short in Father’s view. The juvenile court must direct that process, at least in the first instance. View "In re Baby Girl M." on Justia Law