Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
In Re Colorado in interest of children and concerning J.L.M. and J.P.
The Washington County Department of Human Services (“WCDHS”) and the Board of County Commissioners of Washington County (“the Board”)—collectively, Washington County, contended a Colorado district court erred when it failed to adhere to Colorado v. Madera, 112 P.3d 688 (Colo. 2005) in granting Father’s request for an in camera review of documents that were allegedly protected by the attorney-client privilege. The district court and Father countered that Madera was inapposite and that the challenged ruling was free of error because it is consistent with the Colorado Supreme Court's decision in Alcon v. Spicer, 113 P.3d 735 (Colo. 2005). The issue this case presented was whether Madera or Alcon, issued six days apart in the spring of 2005, controlled in this case. Here, in response to a subpoena duces tecum served by Father, Washington County provided a privilege log listing documents allegedly protected by the attorney-client privilege. After reviewing the log, Father insisted the privilege did not apply, and the parties were unable to resolve their dispute informally. Consequently, Father asked the district court to conduct an in camera inspection of the documents identified in the log. Because the log provided vague descriptions of the withheld documents, the district court could not assess Washington County’s claim of privilege. It thus granted Father’s request for an in camera review. In doing so, the district court neither made Madera’s required findings nor employed Madera’s analytical framework. Washington County argued the district court’s failure to conform to Madera rendered the in camera order faulty. But the district court and Father responded that Madera didn't apply. Instead, they maintained, Alcon applied. The Supreme Court concluded the district court correctly followed Alcon, not Madera, in this case. And the Court further concluded that, consistent with Alcon, the court correctly granted Father’s request for an in camera review because Washington County’s log did not permit an assessment of the claim of privilege. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re Colorado in interest of children and concerning J.L.M. and J.P." on Justia Law
Colorado in interest of H.J.B.
A-J.A.B. tested positive at birth for methamphetamine. H.J.B. (“Mother”) admitted methamphetamine use during her pregnancy. In March 2020, less than a month after A-J.A.B.’s birth, the Adams County Human Services Department (“the Department”) filed a petition in dependency and neglect concerning A-J.A.B. The Department’s petition noted that it had no information indicating that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child or eligible for membership in an Indian tribe, although the petition did not identify what efforts, if any, the Department took to determine whether A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. At the shelter hearing, Mother’s counsel informed the court that Mother may have “some Cherokee and Lakota Sioux [heritage] through [A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother].” However, Mother was uncertain if anyone in her family was actually registered with a tribe and acknowledged that she “probably [wouldn’t] qualify” for any tribal membership herself. The juvenile court ordered Mother to “fill out the ICWA paperwork,” but the court did not direct the Department to exercise its due diligence obligation under section 19-1-126(3). At the next hearing, Mother, who had not filled out the ICWA paperwork, again stated that she had “Native American heritage” through A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother. Because of these assertions, the juvenile court found that the case “‘may’ be an ICWA case.” By December 2020, the Department moved to terminate Mother’s parental rights. At the pretrial conference, Mother’s attorney informed the court that she spoke with A-J.A.B.’s maternal grandmother, who stated that she “thought that the heritage may be Lakota.” Mother’s attorney told the court “it doesn’t sound like there’s a reason to believe that ICWA would apply” and acknowledged that neither Mother nor A-J.A.B. were enrolled members of any tribe. The juvenile court subsequently concluded that “there [was] no reason to believe that this case [was] governed by [ICWA].” The juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights. Mother appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in finding that ICWA did not apply because the court had a reason to know that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the Department satisfied its statutory due diligence obligation under section19-1-126(3), and affirmed in different grounds. View "Colorado in interest of H.J.B." on Justia Law
In Re Colorado in the interest of L.S.
G.L.A. (“Mother”) brought L.S., who was one year old at the time, to the hospital for medical treatment. Hospital staff conducted a skeletal survey, which revealed that L.S. had a broken tibia; two additional fractures that were healing; severe bruising and swelling to his groin; and significant bruising on his back, face, and genitals. The hospital sent a referral to the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services, and the state filed a petition for dependent or neglected children in district court, alleging that Mother had physically abused L.S. The district court adjudicated L.S. dependent or neglected. About a month later, the court found that an appropriate treatment plan couldn’t be devised for Mother based on L.S.’s serious bodily injury(“SBI”), and Mother appealed. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether the State satisfies its burden of proving that an appropriate treatment plan can’t be devised for a respondent parent in a dependency and neglect case when the State establishes by a preponderance of evidence a single incident resulting in serious bodily injury to the child. To this, the Court concluded that it did: the district court erred by imposing a clear and convincing burden of proof on the State at the dispositional hearing. Because there was no dispute L.S. sustained a serious bodily injury, the district court’s order granting Mother’s motion for directed verdict was reversed and the case remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "In Re Colorado in the interest of L.S." on Justia Law
People in interest of Minor Child E.B.
In a dependency and neglect case, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed whether respondent R.B.’s (“Father’s”) due process rights were violated when a juvenile court denied his request for a continuance of a parental-rights termination hearing. Although his counsel was present, technical difficulties prevented Father’s virtual attendance at the hearing. Because Father failed to show actual prejudice, the Supreme Court concluded his claim fails. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, vacated its opinion, and remanded for further proceedings. View "People in interest of Minor Child E.B." on Justia Law
R.W. & H.W. v. People in interest of E.W.
E.W. (the Child) was adjudicated dependent and neglected. Both parents were referred to services to treat substance abuse and were put on a family services plan. Both struggled to engage with their treatment plans. Father requested the Department of Human Services explore a kin-like placement in Montana where he was originally from and where he had family and friends who might be willing to care for the Child. The trial court approved the placement, and ordered that the Department retain custody of E.W. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on the interaction among three different but related statutory schemes. Specifically, the Court considered what should happen when: (1) a Colorado court obtains initial jurisdiction over a child under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”); (2) that court adjudicates the child neglected or dependent pursuant to the Colorado Children’s Code; (3) the child is then placed in an out-of-state placement through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (“ICPC”); (4) the parents subsequently move out of state; and (5) no other state court has asserted jurisdiction over the child. Does the Colorado court lose jurisdiction simply because the child and the parents have separately left Colorado? Reading these statutory provisions together, the Supreme Court concluded that it does not. Instead, in the circumstances presented here, the Colorado court retains jurisdiction over the child. View "R.W. & H.W. v. People in interest of E.W." on Justia Law
Colorado in interest of E.A.M. v. D.R.M.
As relevant here, a trial court has reason to know that a child is an Indian child when “[a]ny participant in the proceeding, officer of the court involved in the proceeding, Indian Tribe, Indian organization, or agency informs the court that it has discovered information indicating that the child is an Indian child.” In this dependency and neglect case, the juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights with respect to E.A.M. Mother appealed, complaining that the court had failed to comply with Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) by not ensuring that the petitioning party, the Denver Human Services Department (“the Department”), had provided notice of the proceeding to the tribes that she and other relatives had identified as part of E.A.M.’s heritage. The Department and the child’s guardian ad litem responded that the assertions of Indian heritage by Mother and other relatives had not given the juvenile court reason to know that the child was an Indian child. Rather, they maintained, such assertions had merely triggered the due diligence requirement in section 19-1-126(3), and here, the Department had exercised due diligence. A division of the court of appeals agreed with Mother, vacated the termination judgment, and remanded with directions to ensure compliance with ICWA’s notice requirements. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding that "mere assertions" of a child's Indian heritage, without more, were not enough to give a juvenile court "reason to know" that the child was an Indian child. Here, the juvenile court correctly found that it didn’t have reason to know that E.A.M. is an Indian child. Accordingly, it properly directed the Department to exercise due diligence in gathering additional information that would assist in determining whether there was reason to know that E.A.M. is an Indian child. View "Colorado in interest of E.A.M. v. D.R.M." on Justia Law
Colorado in interest of My.K.M. and Ma. K.M.
This termination of parental rights case concerned the “active efforts” required under the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs to assist a parent in completing a court-ordered treatment plan. A division of the Colorado court of appeals reversed a juvenile court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parent-child legal relationship with her two Native American children, holding that the Denver Department of Human Services (“DHS”) did not engage in the “active efforts” required under ICWA to assist Mother in completing her court-ordered treatment plan because it did not offer Mother job training or employment assistance, even though Mother struggled to maintain sobriety and disappeared for several months. The Colorado Supreme Court held that “active efforts” was a heightened standard requiring a greater degree of engagement by agencies, and agencies must provide a parent with remedial services and resources to complete all of the parent’s treatment plan objectives. The Court was satisfied the record supported the juvenile court’s determination that DHS engaged in active efforts to provide Mother with services and programs to attempt to rehabilitate her and reunited the family. The appellate court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for that court to address Mother’s remaining appellate contentions. View "Colorado in interest of My.K.M. and Ma. K.M." on Justia Law
Parental Responsibilities of: E.K.
The Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider whether a district court erred in dismissing a a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities (“APR”) filed by Steven Cook (“Stepfather”) for lack of standing. The Court reaffirmed that neither exclusive physical care nor parental consent was required for a nonparent to establish standing to petition for an APR under section 14-10-123(1)(c), C.R.S. (2021), of Colorado’s Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act (“UDMA”). Thus, the Court vacated the district court’s order dismissing Stepfather’s APR petition and its award of attorney fees against Stepfather pursuant to section 13-17-102, C.R.S. (2021), and remanded for further proceedings. View "Parental Responsibilities of: E.K." on Justia Law
Colorado in the int. of S.A., a Child
Respondents B.A. and J.W., adopted S.A., a minor, and his two younger siblings. In 2020, S.A. had homicidal and suicidal ideations and allegedly acted out against his siblings. S.A. was eventually placed in foster care at the request of B.A., J.W., and A.W. (collectively, “Parents”). After initially opening a voluntary case, the Park County Department of Human Services (“Department”) filed a petition in dependency or neglect as to S.A. The district court, sitting as a juvenile court, adjudicated S.A. dependent or neglected on September 16, 2021. The juvenile court, after conducting a series of hearings, reviewing the proposed treatment plans, and considering the parties’ position statements, ordered therapeutic sibling visits between S.A. and his two younger siblings “[p]ursuant to [section] 19-7-204,” C.R.S. (2021). The court entered this order over Parents’ strenuous objection. Parents then petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court found that neither the Foster Youth Siblings Bill of Rights, nor the dependency or neglect provisions of the Colorado Children’s Code, granted the juvenile court personal jurisdiction over the siblings. Additionally, the court’s personal jurisdiction over the parents and its subject matter jurisdiction over the case did not grant the court authority over the non-dependent siblings. Accordingly, the Court vacated the juvenile court order, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Colorado in the int. of S.A., a Child" on Justia Law
Colorado in the Interest of A.P.
In the Colorado Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, the issue presented for review centered on a district court's setting aside the adjudication and termination orders entered against A.P.’s parents, S.S. and D.P. under C.R.C.P.60(b)(5). Because the Parents failed to show that former Judge Natalie Chase was actually biased in their case, and because Rule60(b)(5) was reserved only for extraordinary circumstances not present here, the district court abused its discretion by misconstruing the law concerning impropriety and bias in this case, and misapplied Rule 60(b)(5) in granting the Parents' relief. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado in the Interest of A.P." on Justia Law