Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
Wrigley v. Washington
Jessica Wrigley brought a negligent investigation claim against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) based on the placement of her son, A.A., with his biological father, Anthony Viles, during dependency hearings. Within three months of the placement, Viles killed A.A. The superior court dismissed Wrigley’s claim on summary judgment, finding the duty to investigate was never triggered. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding the “trigger” was Wrigley’s prediction that Viles would harm A.A. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding a report predicting future abuse absent evidence of current or past conduct of abuse or neglect did not invoke a duty to investigate under RCW 26.44.050. View "Wrigley v. Washington" on Justia Law
H.B.H. v. Washington
Former foster children brought a case against the Department of Social and Health Service (DSHS) alleging negligence in failing to protect them from the tortious or criminal acts of their foster (and later, adoptive) parents. At the close of evidence, the trial court granted the Department's CR 50 motion and dismissed the children's claims of negligence concerning the preadoption-foster care period. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding DSHS owed them a common law duty to protect dependent foster children from foreseeable harm based on the special relationship between DSHS and such children. The Washington Supreme Court agreed with this reasoning, and remanded for trial on the children's preadoption claims. View "H.B.H. v. Washington" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of E.H.
This matter involved two unrelated juveniles, E.H. and S.K.-P. in unrelated dependency proceedings. R.R., E.H.;s mother, and S.K.-P. both challenged the validity of RCW 13.34.100's discretionary standard for appointment of counsel for children in dependency proceedings, and sought instead a categorical right to counsel for all children in dependency proceedings. The Washington Supreme Court consolidate these cases to address that issue. The Supreme Court determined RCW 13.34.100(7)(a) was adequate under the Washington Constitution, and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion to appoint counsel. In light of GR 15, the Supreme Court held confidential juvenile court records remain sealed and confidential on appeal, and granted a joint motion to seal records in these matters. View "In re Dependency of E.H." on Justia Law
Rodriguez v. Zavala
Esmeralda Rodriguez petitioned for protection on behalf of her two-year-old son, arguing that Luis Zavala's repeated threats against her son constituted "domestic violence" under the plain language of RCW 26.50.010(3), and that she could petition for a protection order on her son's behalf based on her reasonable fear for him. Rodriguez feared Zavala would make good on his past threats and kill her, her daughters, their son, and then kill himself. Rodriguez petitioned ex parte for a domestic violence protection order for herself and her children, including L.Z. In her petition, Rodriguez described the assault that compelled her to seek the order, as well as Zavala's history of violence. The court issued a temporary order pending a full hearing. The temporary order restrained Zavala from contacting Rodriguez and all four children. The trial court issued a protective order for Rodriguez and her daughters, but excluded L.Z., explaining that the boy was not "present" during the assault or threatened at all. According to the trial judge, "[L.Z.] wasn't involved in any of this." Rodriguez appealed. Among other things, she argued that her son should have been included in the final protection order based on her fear that Zavala would hurt L.Z. The Washington Supreme Court agreed that Rodriguez could petition for protection of L.Z. under the plain language of RCW 26.50.010(3), and reversed the trial court's decision. View "Rodriguez v. Zavala" on Justia Law
In re Marriage of Black
Rachelle and Charles Black were married for nearly 20 years and had three sons. They raised their children in a conservative Christian church and sent them to private, Christian schools. In 2011, Rachelle told Charles that she was lesbian, and the parties divorces shortly thereafter. In the order of dissolution, the trial court designated Charles as the primary residential parent. The final parenting plan also awarded Charles sole decision-making authority regarding the children's education and religious upbringing. The record showed that the trial court considered Rachelle's sexual orientation as a factor when it fashioned the final parenting plan. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found improper bias influenced the proceedings. “This bias casts doubt on the trial court's entire ruling, and we are not confident the trial court ensured a fair proceeding by maintaining a neutral attitude regarding Rachelle's sexual orientation. Accordingly, we reverse.” View "In re Marriage of Black" on Justia Law
In re Marriage of Zandi
Victor and Deanna Zandi's were divorced in 2009. Their dependent daughter, T.Z., incurred approximately $13,000 in medical bills when she had a kidney stone removed while traveling outside her medical insurer’s, Kaiser Permanente, network. The superior court ordered Victor Zandi to pay 7 5 percent of the cost and Deanna Zandi to pay the remaining 25 percent. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the superior court abused its discretion by modifying the parties' 2009 order of child support, which required Victor Zandi to pay 100 percent of "uninsured medical expenses." This case presented an issue of whether out-of-network health care costs qualified as "[u]ninsured medical expenses" under RCW 26.18.170(18)(d). The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: the legislature defined "[u]ninsured medical expenses" as costs not covered by insurance. WAC 388-14A-1020 clarified that this included costs "not paid" by insurance, even if those costs would be covered under other circumstances. Because the health care expenses in this case were unambiguously within the scope of RCW 26.18.170(18)(d), financial responsibility was allocated by the 2009 order and may not be modified absent evidence of changed circumstances or other evidence consistent with the requirements of RCW 26.09.170(6)-(7). View "In re Marriage of Zandi" on Justia Law
In re Parental Rights to K.J.B.
Petitioner J.B. argued that his parental rights with respect to his biological child K.J.B. could not be terminated without express written findings of fact on “incarcerated parent factors” from the 2013 amendment of RCW 13.34.180(1)(f). The Supreme Court held that while explicit findings on the incarcerated parent factors were not statutorily required, consideration of the factors was mandatory. Because the trial court failed to consider the incarcerated parent factors in this case, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for consideration of the incarcerated parent factors. View "In re Parental Rights to K.J.B." on Justia Law
In re Custody of L.M.S.
Faualuga and Billie Siufanua sought custody of L.M.S., their granddaughter. The grandparents contended that placing L.M.S. with Tony Fuga, her biological father, would cause actual detriment because the father has been mostly absent from her life and because they are the only parents she has known. But absent additional circumstances, the Supreme Court could not assume that interfering with the parent-like relationship between L.M.S. and her grandparents amounted to actual detriment. Fuga has a positive relationship with L.M.S., and he was able and willing to raise her. The grandparents failed to present sufficient facts demonstrating a specific detriment that would ensue if L.M.S. was placed with Fuga. Under these circumstances, the trial court correctly denied the grandparents' nonparental custody petition for lacking adequate cause. View "In re Custody of L.M.S." on Justia Law
Aiken v. Aiken
A mother sought an emergency protection order to keep her soon-to-be ex-husband away from her and their children because, she alleged, he had abused them. The father denied the allegations and sought to cross-examine one of the daughters about her claim that he had repeatedly tried to suffocate her, among other things. Evidence was presented that the daughter was suicidal, was unable to confront her father, and would be significantly traumatized by this cross-examination. The issue this case presented was whether the father had a constitutional or statutory right to question his minor daughter in court before the protection order could be issued. Finding under the facts of this case that he did not, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Aiken v. Aiken" on Justia Law
In re Paternity of M.H.
In this case, the issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on under which of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act’s (UIFSA) choice of law rules Washington’s nonclaim statutes fell. Stephanie Bell and Juan Sidran Heflin were the parents of M.H. In 1994, Bell established paternity and obtained an order of child support from an Indiana circuit court. Bell and M.H. lived in Indiana at that time, but Heflin lived in Washington. In 2010, Bell registered the Indiana support order in King County, Washington for enforcement only. After various hearings, the King County Superior Court confirmed the Indiana support order. The parties then entered into a settlement agreement in 2011 where Heflin agreed to pay a sum of$120,000 in monthly payments of $2,000. After Heflin failed to abide by the terms of the settlement agreement, Bell filed the motion for wage withholding in King County Superior Court at issue in this appeal. After finding that Indiana law applied, the superior court issued the wage withholding order. The Court of Appeals reversed the wage withholding order in an unpublished opinion, finding that Washington law applied and the trial court lacked the authority to issues the wage withholding order because a time period in RCW 4.56.210(2) had passed and the Indiana judgment had expired. Bell petitioned for review. Relying on the comments to the model UIFSA and other states' interpretations of it, the Washington Supreme Court held that under UIFSA's choice of law provision, a statute authorizing wage withholding was a "remedy," whereas a nonclaim statute was a "statute of limitation." After comparing the two statutes of limitations applicable in this case, the 20-year Indiana statute of limitation controlled because it was longer. Therefore, the trial court had the authority to enter the wage withholding order, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case for entry of judgment in Stephanie Bell's favor. View "In re Paternity of M.H." on Justia Law