Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of California
In re N.R.
A person identified as O.R. appealed the decision of the Los Angeles County Superior Court to place his child, N.R., under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the Department) based on allegations of substance abuse. The Supreme Court of California reviewed two issues concerning the interpretation of the Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1)(D), which allows for jurisdiction over a child in cases where the parent’s substance abuse results in an inability to provide regular care for the child and causes or could cause the child serious physical harm or illness.First, the court clarified the term “substance abuse” as used in the statute. It rejected O.R.’s argument that “substance abuse” must be shown through a medical diagnosis or by meeting the criteria for a substance use disorder as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The court held that “substance abuse” in this context should be given its ordinary meaning, which refers to the excessive use of drugs or alcohol. The court cautioned that to establish dependency jurisdiction, the abuse must render the parent unable to provide regular care for the child and either cause the child serious physical harm or illness, or place the child at substantial risk of such harm or illness.Second, the court rejected the so-called “tender years presumption,” which holds that substance abuse by a parent is prima facie evidence of an inability to provide regular care and a substantial risk of serious physical harm when the child is very young. The court held that this presumption is not supported by the language of the statute or the legislative intent, and improperly simplifies the analysis required under section 300(b)(1)(D). Instead, the court held that the government must establish each element of the statute separately, without shifting the burden to the parent to rebut a presumption created by a finding of substance abuse.The court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "In re N.R." on Justia Law
Michael G. v. Superior Court of Orange County
After determining that Father’s delusions and paranoia put A.G.(age 14) at risk of serious harm, the juvenile court assumed jurisdiction, ordered that A.G. be removed from Father’s custody, and ordered reunification services and a psychological evaluation. At the six-month hearing, the Agency reported that Father had received his case plan several months earlier but had not signed the plan nor engaged in recommended services. Father also resisted psychological evaluation. At the 12-month hearing, the Agency reported that Father had made moderate progress. The court granted an extension, finding that the Agency had provided reasonable services. At the 18-month hearing, the Agency reported that returning A.G. to Father’s custody still presented a substantial risk of detriment to her well-being and recommended a permanency planning hearing. The court found that the Agency had not provided reasonable services between the 12- and 18-month hearings but declined to exercise its discretion to continue the case, noting Father’s uneven progress.The California Supreme Court affirmed. Reasonable reunification services must be offered to qualifying parents for a minimum of six or 12 months, depending on the child’s age, and generally may be extended for up to 18 months. The court was not automatically required to grant a further extension based on its finding that reasonable services were not provided during the 12- to 18-month extension. Once a child has been out of the parent’s custody for 18 months, the law ordinarily requires the court to proceed to set a hearing to determine a permanent plan. View "Michael G. v. Superior Court of Orange County" on Justia Law
In re D.P.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal dismissing Father's appeal of the determination of the juvenile court that it had jurisdiction over D.P. under former Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 300(b)(1), holding that the court of appeals erred in dismissing the appeal.The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a dependency petition claiming that D.P. and his sister were at risk of neglect. The juvenile court dismissed all but one of the counts and found that it had jurisdiction over D.P. under former Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 300(b)(1). Parents challenged this jurisdictional finding on appeal. While Parents' appeal of the jurisdictional finding was pending, the juvenile court terminated its jurisdiction, finding that D.P. was no longer at risk. The court of appeals then dismissed Parents' case as moot. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Father's appeal was moot; and (2) the court of appeals had discretion to review Father's case even though it was moot. View "In re D.P." on Justia Law
In re Christopher L.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the juvenile court, holding that the juvenile court committed serious errors by proceeding with a hearing to determine its jurisdiction over a child and disposition of a wardship petition without an incarcerated parent's presence and without appointing counsel for the parent, but the rule of automatic reversal was unwarranted in this case.The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services filed a dependency petition alleging that two children were at risk due to Mother's ongoing substance abuse and Father's criminal history. Neither Father, who was incarcerated, nor counsel for Father appeared at the ensuing combined jurisdiction and disposition hearing. The court sustained the petition as to both Father and Mother. Thereafter, the court terminated Father's parental rights. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that it was not structural error for the juvenile court to proceed with the jurisdiction and disposition hearing without Father's presence and without appointing Father an attorney. View "In re Christopher L." on Justia Law
Conservatorship of K.P.
The Supreme Court held that capacity or willingness to accept treatment is a relevant factor to be considered on the issue of grave disability but is not a separate element that must be proven to establish a conservatorship.Under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 5000 et seq., those subject to a conservatorship petition are entitled to a court or jury trial to decide if they are "gravely disabled." At issue was whether the trier of fact must additionally find that the individual is unwilling or unable to accept treatment voluntarily. The jury in this case found that K.P. was gravely disabled and granted a petition to renew K.P.'s conservatorship. The court of appeal affirmed. On appeal, K.P. claimed that a finding of unwillingness or inability to accept voluntary treatment was required for a conservatorship to be established. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that inability or unwillingness to accept voluntary treatment need not be separately proven at trial. View "Conservatorship of K.P." on Justia Law
In re Caden C.
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court that Mother had established one of a series of enumerated exceptions to avoid termination of parental rights, holding that the court of appeals erred in its analysis.The trial court in this case found that Child was likely to be adopted but that Mother had established the parental-benefit exception precluding termination of parental rights. The court therefore declined to terminate parental rights and ordered that Child remain in foster care subject to periodic review. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that because Mother continued to struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse and because the benefits of the potential adoptive home and the risks of foster care, a reasonable court could not find that Child's relationship with Mother outweighed the benefits of adoption. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeal's holding that no reasonable court could apply the parental-benefit exception given Mother's substance abuse and mental health issues was in error. View "In re Caden C." on Justia Law
In re E.F.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) in this juvenile case, holding that where the prosecutor has not given advance notice and has not made an adequate showing to justify the lack of notice, the court must give sufficient time for counsel and the minor to prepare and respond to the application before any order is issued.At issue was whether a juvenile court may, when a minor is the subject of a juvenile wardship petition, issue a TRO notice under Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 213.5, subdivision (b) without advance notice to the minor. The Supreme Court held (1) section 213.5, subdivision (b) incorporates the notice requirements set forth in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 527, subdivision (c); and (2) because no notice was provided before the hearing in this case, the juvenile court's issuance of the TRO exceeded its authority under section 213.5. View "In re E.F." on Justia Law
In re Conservatorship of O.B.
The Supreme Court held that when reviewing a finding that a fact has been proved by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must view the record in light most favorable to the prevailing party below and give due deference to how the trier of fact may have evaluated the credibility of witnesses, resolved conflicts in the evidence, and drawn reasonable inferences from the evidence.A probate court appointed limited coconservators for O.B., a young woman with autism. O.B. challenged the order, arguing that the proof did not clearly and convincingly establish that a limited conservatorship was warranted. The court of appeal rejected O.B.'s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, concluding that the clear and convincing standard of proof "disappears" on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that when reviewing a finding of fact that has been proved by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could have found it highly probable that the fact was true. View "In re Conservatorship of O.B." on Justia Law
Speier v. Brace
The Supreme Court answered a question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding which presumption governs the characterization of joint tenancy property in a dispute between a couple and the bankruptcy trustee of one of the spouses.The Supreme Court held (1) Cal. Evid. Code 662 does not apply when it conflicts with the Cal. Fam. Code 760 community property presumption; (2) when a married couple uses community funds to acquire property with joint tenancy title on over after January 1, 1975 the property is presumptively community property under Cal. Fam. Code 760 in a dispute between the couple and a bankruptcy trustee, and for properly purchased before January 1, 1975, the presumption is that separate property interests arise from joint tenancy title; and (3) joint tenancy titling of property acquired by spouses using community funds on or after January 1, 1985 is not sufficient by itself to transmute community property into separate property. View "Speier v. Brace" on Justia Law
Bianka M. v. Superior Court
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal upholding the ruling of the superior court denying the requests of Bianka M., a minor, for an order placing her in her mother’s sole custody and for findings that would enable her to seek “special immigrant juvenile” (SIJ) status under federal immigration law, holding that the superior court erred in concluding that it could not issue either a custody order or findings relevant to SIJ status unless Bianka first established a basis for exercising personal jurisdiction over her father and joined him as a party to the action.Bianka entered the United States unaccompanied and without prior authorization. In a family court action, Bianka asked to be placed in the sole custody of her mother, who had left Honduras for the United States years before, and sought findings enabling her to seek special immigrant juvenile status, alleging that her father, who resided in Honduras, abandoned her. The superior court denied the requests. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the superior court erred in requiring Bianka’s father to be joined as a party in her parentage action seeking SIJ findings because he received adequate notice and took no steps to participate; and (2) the action may proceed regardless of Bianka’s perceived immigration-related motivations for filing the action. View "Bianka M. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law