Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
Wolf v. Washington
At issue in this case is the triggering event for the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse actions. Timothy Jones’ estate (Estate) brought negligence and wrongful death claims against the State of Washington. Timothy was born to Jaqueline Jones in 1990. In 2003, Jacqueline lost her home to foreclosure, and Timothy moved in with Price Nick Miller Jr., a family friend. A month later, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) was alerted that Miller was paying too much attention to children who were not his own. After investigating the report, DCYF removed Timothy from Miller’s home based on this inappropriate behavior. In November 2003, Timothy was placed in foster care and DCYF filed a dependency petition. Timothy’s dependency case was dismissed in 2006. Later that year, Timothy told a counselor that Miller had abused him sexually, physically, and emotionally from 1998 to 2006. In 2008, Miller pleaded guilty to second degree child rape connected to his abuse of Timothy and second degree child molestation related to another child. In 2007 or 2008, Jacqueline sued Miller on Timothy’s behalf. The attorney did not advise Timothy or his mother that there may be a lawsuit against the State or that the State may be liable for allowing Miller’s abuse to occur. Sometime in mid-2017, and prompted by a news story about childhood sexual abuse, Timothy and a romantic parter Jimmy Acevedo discussed whether Timothy may have a claim against the State. Acevedo recommended that Timothy consult a lawyer. In fall 2017, Timothy contacted a firm that began investigating Timothy’s case. In June 2018, Timothy committed suicide. Jacqueline was appointed personal representative of Timothy’s estate and filed claims for negligence, negligent investigation, and wrongful death against the State. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court concluded the statute of limitations for negligence claims begins when a victim recognizes the causal connection between the intentional abuse and their injuries. The court granted summary judgment for the State and dismissed the Estate’s claims as time barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding no evidence was presented that Timothy made the causal connection between that alleged act and his injuries until August or September 2017, and the Estate filed its claims on March 12, 2020, within RCW 4.16.340(1)(c)’s three-year time period. View "Wolf v. Washington" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of A.M.F.
A child was removed from his mother and placed with his grandparents out of concern that she could not care for him. Years later, the State sought to terminate that mother’s parental rights. On advice of counsel, she declined to answer questions related to her recent drug use. The trial judge chose to draw a negative inference from her assertion of that right. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether, under the Fifth Amendment, that was permissible. The Court stressed that such a negative inference could not be the only evidence supporting termination. Here, the Supreme Court concluded the trial coud did not err by drawing a negative inference from the mother’s refusal to answer specific questions about her drug use. View "In re Dependency of A.M.F." on Justia Law
In re Dependency of A.C.
CC (mother) and VC (father) were driving through eastern Washington when CC went into premature labor. CC gave birth to AC in a nearby hospital. AC’s umbilical cord tested positive for cannabis. Hospital staff noted that CC was disabled, that CC and VC were homeless, and that they had no baby supplies. The hospital reported its concerns to the State, and the State sent social worker Michelle Woodward to investigate. Woodward contacted CC’s family from whom she heard reports of the couple’s domestic violence, criminal history, and drug use. The State took custody of AC and temporarily placed him with a foster family. The court later found AC dependent at a contested shelter care hearing and ordered CC to participate in random drug testing and an evidence-based parenting program. The court also ordered the State to provide regular, supervised visitation. At about this time, a new social worker, Diana Barnes, was assigned to AC. The court held another dependency hearing where Woodward, Barnes, and parenting therapist Logan Wright testified in support of AC’s dependency. Woodward and Barnes relied extensively on hearsay based largely on secondhand reports and statements rather than their own personal interactions or investigations. None of these reports were submitted into evidence, no records custodian authenticated them, and none of the out-of-court witnesses whose statements were recorded in those reports were called to testify. Counsel for VC made two unsuccessful objections to the hearsay presented through the social workers. The court ultimately found that the parents’ past history with the criminal justice system and Child Protective Services supported dependency, a finding substantially based on hearsay. CC and VC appealed. The Washington Supreme Court held the trial court’s impermissible reliance on hearsay prejudiced the parents and materially affected the outcome of the trial. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s dependency finding for AC as to both parents. View "In re Dependency of A.C." on Justia Law
In re Welfare of M.R.
This case presented an issue of first impression for the Washington Supreme Court relating to the business records exception to the rule against hearsay: the admissibility of a drug rehabilitation and testing center incident report under RCW 5.45.020. The child in this case, M.R., was removed from her parents’ custody shortly after birth because of her mother’s history of involvement with Child Protective Services for her two older children and the mother’s suspected ongoing substance abuse and mental health problems. In 2017, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) petitioned to terminate the parental rights of M.R.’s father, D.R. Throughout the course of M.R.’s dependency, the juvenile court ordered D.R. to engage in various remedial services designed to correct his perceived parenting deficiencies. One such requirement asked D.R. to provide a urinalysis (UA) sample. D.R. went for the UA test but left without providing a sample. The clinic staff member who monitored the test submitted an incident report, which stated D.R. had been seen attempting to open a UA “device” during the test. The State moved to terminate D.R.’s parental rights, and at the time of the trial, despite several follow-up requests to comply with a UA test, D.R. failed to produce a UA sample. At trial, the incident report was admitted as a business record to show D.R. was caught attempting to use a UA device. In November 2020, D.R.’s parental rights were terminated. He appealed, arguing the judge committed prejudicial error by admitting the incident report as a business record because the observation of the UA device involved a degree of “skill of observation” akin to expert testimony and in excess of the scope of the business records exception. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court determined the judge's decision to admit the incident report met applicable legal standards, and was not manifestly unreasonable or based on untenable grounds. Therefore, the Court found no abuse of discretion and therefore affirmed. View "In re Welfare of M.R." on Justia Law
In re Dependency of L.C.S.
A child was taken from his mother after she brought him to the hospital. Hospital staff found the child had serious injuries. The father, who lived separately from the mother, asked that the child be placed with him. The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Family recommended out-of-home placement, citing concern for the child’s safety. A court determined the child should have been placed with his godparents, based on the Department’s recommendation. The father moved for discretionary review of the shelter care order, arguing the court erred because the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal from a parent. The Court of Appeals denied review, and a panel of the court declined to modify its ruling. The father than moved for discretionary review by the Oregon Supreme Court, which was granted. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court became moot, as the father ultimately agreed to an order of dependency in a subsequent hearing. The Supreme Court still opined on what “reasonable efforts” the Department had to make before a child could be removed for a parent or guardian’s care. The Department argued (and the trial court agreed) that given the acute and emergent circumstances of the case, it did not violate the reasonable efforts requirement. The father argued there was no such exception for emergent circumstances. The Supreme Court provided additional guidance as to what constituted reasonable efforts, and here, held the trial court erred in excusing the Department from making reasonable efforts to place the child with the father. View "In re Dependency of L.C.S." on Justia Law
Desmet v. Washington
In February 2016, three-month-old A.K., daughter of respondents Michelle Desmet and Sandro Kasco, was taken into protective custody after she suffered a spiral fracture to her left femur. When the parents could not explain the injury, A.K. was placed with her paternal aunt for six months while the Department of Social Health Services (DSHS) initiated an investigation. By August, A.K. was returned to her parents and a dependency action was dismissed. In August 2018, the parents sued the DSHS (the State) for negligent investigation, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and invasion of privacy by false light (false light) based on the Department’s allegedly harmful investigation and issuance of a letter indicating that allegations of child abuse/neglect against Desmet were founded (the founded letter). The Department moved for summary judgment, arguing it was immune from suit under RCW 4.24.595(2) because its actions in A.K.’s dependency proceedings were taken pursuant to the juvenile court’s order to place A.K. with her aunt. The trial court denied summary judgment and entered a final order finding that no immunity applied. The Department appealed on the immunity issue, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Department claimed on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court that the Court of Appeals’ decision rendered RCW 4.24.595(2) meaningless and that the court erroneously refused to consider the legislative history of RCW 4.24.595(2), which, in the Department’s view, was enacted to bar claims like those brought by the parents. The Supreme Court found the unambiguous text of RCW 4.24.595(2) did not grant the Department immunity for all actions in an investigation of child abuse/neglect that might coincide with a court order in related dependency proceedings. The Court of Appeals was affirmed and the matter remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Desmet v. Washington" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of J.M.W.
The Washington Supreme Court exercised discretionary interlocutory review in this case primarily to decide whether the Washington Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA) required the State to take active efforts to prevent the breakup of J.M.W.’s family before taking him into emergency foster care. Consistent with the plain text and purpose of WICWA, the Supreme Court concluded that it did. The Court also concluded the trial court was required to make a finding on the record at the interim shelter care hearing that J.M.W.’s out of home placement was necessary to prevent imminent physical damage or harm. The matter was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In re Dependency of J.M.W." on Justia Law
In re Dependency of N.G.
N.G., the subject of this dependency proceeding, was born to mother M.S., in 2011. N.G.’s father had no meaningful relationship with N.G. M.S. met J.R., permissive intervenor in this case, in 2014. M.S. and J.R. had a child, N.G.’s half-brother, and married in 2015 but divorced in 2016. The children remained with M.S. and had regular visits with J.R. In August 2020, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (the Department) received a report that M.S. was neglecting the children by locking them in their bedrooms for long periods of time, exposing them to drug paraphernalia, and failing to properly feed them. In October, a juvenile court entered an agreed shelter care order that placed N.G. and his half-sibling with J.R. M.S. agreed to this placement in the dependency order. In the same month, J.R. moved for the juvenile court to grant concurrent jurisdiction over both children in family court so J.R. could modify his son’s parenting plan and petition for nonparental custody of N.G. The juvenile court granted the motion as to J.R.’s son but denied concurrent jurisdiction for N.G. “at this time.” Despite concurrent jurisdiction over N.G. being denied, J.R. petitioned for de facto parentage in family court in December. J.R. then filed a motion to intervene in the dependency. The juvenile court granted J.R.’s motion to intervene under CR 24(b) without explaining its reasoning. M.S. filed a motion for discretionary review with the Court of Appeals, which was ultimately denied. The Washington Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals correctly denied the mother’s motion for discretionary review. "Although the trial court committed probable error when it failed to articulate why it allowed permissive intervention under CR 24(b)(2), the intervention of the dependent child’s former stepfather did not have an immediate effect outside the courtroom. Consequently, the Court of Appeals did not commit probable error in denying discretionary review." View "In re Dependency of N.G." on Justia Law
In re Marriage of Watanabe
Daniel Watanabe and Solveig (Watanabe) Pedersen divorced in 2016. During the marriage, Pedersen inherited a large sum of money and land after her mother passed away. At their dissolution trial, the court held that various real properties were Pedersen’s separate property, despite the fact that both Watanabe’s and Pedersen’s names were on the title for the properties. Watanabe appealed, arguing the trial court erred by failing to apply the joint title gift presumption since the property was acquired in both of their names during marriage. Watanabe also argued the trial court erred by allowing extrinsic evidence of Pedersen’s intent when she quitclaimed her separate property to the community. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the gift presumption did not apply, regardless of whether the property was acquired before or during marriage. The Court of Appeals also held that extrinsic evidence was appropriately admitted to determine whether Pedersen intended to transmute separate property, not to dispute the quitclaim deed itself. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: the joint title gift presumption did not apply regardless of whether the property was acquired before or during marriage. In addition, the Supreme Court held that extrinsic evidence could be admitted to explain the intent of the parties when signing a quitclaim deed to determine whether a party intended to convert separate property into community property. View "In re Marriage of Watanabe" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of K.W.
K.W. was removed from his long-term placement with his relative, “Grandma B.,” after she took a one-day trip and did not notify the social worker of the trip. The consequence of this removal resulted in tremendous upheaval in K.W.’s life and violated the requirements of RCW 13.34.130. Though K.W. was legally free, the placement preferences set out in the statute still applied, and the court erred in failing to apply them and failing to place K.W. with relatives. View "In re Dependency of K.W." on Justia Law