Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around Jennifer Ripple, who married Richard Counter after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a disease allegedly caused by asbestos exposure from the 1950s to the 1990s. Counter filed a personal injury complaint against multiple defendants, claiming negligence and strict liability. After Counter's death, Ripple, as the personal representative of Counter's estate, amended the complaint to wrongful death claims under the Florida Wrongful Death Act. The estate sought damages for Ripple under section 768.21(2) of the Act, which allows a surviving spouse to recover for loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.The trial court granted the defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Ripple could not recover damages under section 768.21(2) because she was not married to Counter at the time of his alleged asbestos exposure. The court based its decision on Florida's common law rule that a party must have been legally married to the injured person at the time of the injury to assert a claim for loss of consortium. The trial court also granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the claim of Counter's adult children, concluding that Ripple was Counter's surviving spouse, thus barring the children from recovery under section 768.21(3) of the Act.The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision regarding Ripple's claim but reversed the decision regarding the adult children's claim. The district court held that Ripple could not recover damages as a surviving spouse under section 768.21(2) because she was not married to Counter at the time of his injury.The Supreme Court of Florida disagreed with the lower courts' decisions. The court held that a spouse who married the decedent after the injury can recover damages as a surviving spouse under section 768.21(2). The court rejected the argument that the common law "marriage before injury" rule bars recovery under section 768.21(2). Consequently, the court approved the holding in Domino’s Pizza, LLC v. Wiederhold, where the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that a spouse who married the decedent after the injury can recover damages as a surviving spouse under section 768.21(2). The court concluded that Jennifer Ripple can recover as a surviving spouse under section 768.21(2). View "Ripple v. CBS Corporation" on Justia Law

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A mother, Daisy M., appealed the termination of her parental rights to her daughter, D.M., arguing that the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) failed to conduct an adequate investigation under state law implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). The mother claimed that DPSS did not fulfill its duty of initial inquiry under Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2, subdivision (b), which requires an investigation into the child's potential Indian heritage.The Superior Court of Riverside County had previously found that DPSS had conducted a sufficient ICWA inquiry and that ICWA did not apply. The court ordered the mother to file a Parental Notification of Indian Status form, which she did, denying any Indian ancestry. The court subsequently terminated the mother's parental rights after she was arrested for battery and driving under the influence, and the child was taken into protective custody.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District affirmed the lower court's decision. The court agreed with previous rulings that the expanded duty of initial inquiry under section 224.2(b) applies only if the child was placed into temporary custody without a warrant. As D.M. was taken into custody pursuant to a protective custody warrant, the expanded duty of initial inquiry under section 224.2(b) was not triggered. Therefore, the mother's argument failed. View "In re D.M." on Justia Law

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The case involves Dr. Adam Lowther and his wife, Jessica Lowther, who sued various state officials on behalf of themselves and their children, alleging constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. The claims arose from the warrantless entry into their home, the arrest of Dr. Lowther, and the removal of their children by officials from New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Family Department (CYFD) and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department (BCSD). The actions of the officials were based on an anonymous report alleging that Dr. Lowther was sexually abusing his four-year-old daughter.The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that they were entitled to qualified immunity on the § 1983 claims and that the state law claims failed for similar reasons. The Lowthers appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the officials had reasonable suspicion that the children had been abused and were in imminent danger, which justified the warrantless entry into the Lowthers' home and the removal of the children. The court also held that the officials had probable cause to arrest Dr. Lowther. Therefore, the officials were entitled to qualified immunity, and the Lowthers' claims were dismissed. View "Lowther v. Children Youth and Family Department" on Justia Law

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The case involves Amber C., the mother of a two-year-old child, Kieran S., who appealed from the juvenile court’s jurisdiction findings and disposition orders after the court sustained a petition by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. The petition was filed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b), alleging that Amber's substance abuse posed a substantial risk of serious physical harm to Kieran. The Department received a referral in April 2019, stating that the parents used drugs in the child's presence. Amber tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, and morphine. Despite her positive test results, Amber denied using methamphetamine and claimed she did not use any drugs while with Kieran. After failing to cooperate with welfare checks and evading the Department, Amber absconded with Kieran.The juvenile court sustained counts under section 300, subdivision (b), alleging Amber abused substances, failed to protect Kieran from Victor’s mental and emotional issues, and absconded with Kieran. At the disposition hearing, the juvenile court declared Kieran a dependent child of the court, removed him from his parents, ordered Amber to attend a drug treatment program, and ordered reunification services. Amber appealed from the jurisdiction findings and disposition orders, arguing that there was no evidence she was under the influence of drugs when Kieran was detained and that there was no evidence of neglect or risk of harm to Kieran in her care.The Supreme Court granted Amber’s petition for review and transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal with directions to vacate its prior decision and reconsider Amber’s appeal in light of In re N.R., which held that substance abuse is not prima facie evidence of a parent’s inability to provide regular care to a child of tender years. The Court of Appeal found that substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s finding Amber’s drug abuse created a substantial risk of physical harm to Kieran and affirmed the juvenile court’s jurisdiction findings and disposition orders. View "In re Kieran S." on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the dissolution of a marriage between Barbara Henderson Green and Jeffry Howard Green. The couple was married in Connecticut in 1982 and lived in Nebraska for most of their marriage. In 2018, Mrs. Green moved to Colorado to assist their pregnant daughter, while Mr. Green remained in Nebraska. The Greens purchased two houses in Denver, one for themselves and one for their daughter. Mr. Green financially supported Mrs. Green from Nebraska and listed one of the Denver houses as an asset on his personal financial statements. In 2021, Mr. Green took out a loan secured by a mortgage on their Denver house, stating that his Nebraska home was his former residence and the Denver house was his primary residence. However, he continued to live in Nebraska. In 2022, both Mr. and Mrs. Green filed for divorce in separate jurisdictions—Mrs. Green in Colorado and Mr. Green in Nebraska.The Colorado trial court found that Mr. Green had the requisite minimum contacts to be subject to general personal jurisdiction in Colorado. This decision was largely based on Mr. Green's assertion that the Denver house was his primary residence when he applied for a loan. The court concluded that Mr. Green's continuing financial obligations in Colorado meant that he could reasonably anticipate being haled into court there, and thus it denied his motion to dismiss.The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado reviewed the case and held that for a court to exercise general personal jurisdiction over an individual, the individual must be domiciled within the state. The court found that Mr. Green was not domiciled in Colorado and therefore was not subject to general personal jurisdiction there. The court made the rule to show cause absolute and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "In re the Marriage of Green" on Justia Law

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The State of West Virginia sought a writ of prohibition to prevent the Circuit Court of Monongalia County from enforcing its order dismissing a six-count indictment against J.L. and D.F., who were charged with crimes relating to child abuse and neglect. The Circuit Court had dismissed the indictment based on its assessment of the evidence presented in a related abuse and neglect proceeding, concluding that no trial jury could convict the parents based on that evidence. The State argued that the Circuit Court had exceeded its legitimate powers by dismissing the indictment.Previously, the Circuit Court had dismissed the indictment on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support it. The court based its decision on its knowledge of the evidence from a related abuse and neglect proceeding, and its opinion regarding the State's likelihood of obtaining convictions by a petit jury.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia granted the writ of prohibition. The court found that the Circuit Court had exceeded its legitimate powers by dismissing the indictment based on its improper consideration of evidence in a prior proceeding. The court held that a circuit court may not grant a defendant's pretrial motion to dismiss an indictment on the basis of the sufficiency of the evidence or whether a factual basis for the indictment exists. The court concluded that the State was entitled to the requested writ of prohibition, as the Circuit Court's order was clearly erroneous as a matter of law, and the State would be damaged in a way that was not correctable on appeal. View "State of West Virginia ex rel. State of West Virginia v. Gwaltney" on Justia Law

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The case involves a father, H.A., who sought to vacate orders of the juvenile court that terminated his visitation rights and the mother’s reunification services, and set a hearing pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. The father argued that the inquiry into the minors’ potential Indian heritage in this dependency case was insufficient and failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The San Joaquin County Human Services Agency had filed a section 300 petition on behalf of the minors based on the parents’ substance abuse, domestic violence, and the mother’s untreated mental health issues. Both parents denied having any Native American ancestry.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District agreed with the father's contention. The court found that the inquiry of relatives and family members about the minors’ potential Indian heritage was necessary to meet the requirements of the ICWA. The court noted that the Agency had contact with the maternal and paternal grandmothers and the paternal great-aunt, but did not ask them, or any other relatives, about possible Native American ancestry.The court vacated the juvenile court’s finding that the minors are not Indian children within the meaning of the ICWA and remanded the case to the juvenile court for further proceedings to address compliance with the inquiry and notice provisions of the ICWA. The court also issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the respondent juvenile court to vacate the ICWA findings and conduct further proceedings to determine whether the ICWA inquiry and notice requirements have been met. The court emphasized the obligations of the parents’ and minors’ counsel, the juvenile court, and the Agency under the ICWA. View "H.A. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Scott and Traci Musland, married in 1997, separated in 2022, and Scott filed for divorce. The couple resolved several interim issues through mediation, including exclusive use of the marital and lake homes. A bench trial was held in July 2023, where both parties provided testimony and exhibits. The district court found the Musland marital estate to be valued at just over eight million dollars. Traci Musland was awarded sections of land, a lake home, all of the couple’s retirement funds, miscellaneous equipment, and personal property. She also received an “equity payment” of $700,000 and was allocated responsibility for the debt associated with her credit cards and appraisal fee, leaving her a net estate of $3,224,357. Scott Musland was awarded a net estate of $4,961,915, which included the marital home, farmland, and debt, totaling $2,388,931.Traci Musland appealed the district court's decision, arguing that the property division was clearly erroneous, that the court erred in setting a land rent value, and failing to award her rent for the 2023 tax year, and that the right of first refusal granted to Scott Musland was not appropriate. The Supreme Court of North Dakota reviewed the district court’s distribution of marital property under a clearly erroneous standard. The court found that the district court provided a thorough analysis of the Ruff-Fischer guidelines and applied the law properly. The court concluded that the division of the marital estate was not clearly erroneous.However, the Supreme Court of North Dakota agreed with Traci Musland that the language of the right of first refusal as written was not appropriate. The court remanded that issue to the district court to modify the right of first refusal to provide that it is triggered by the acceptance of an offer by Traci Musland, subject to the right of first refusal. The court affirmed the district court’s distribution of the marital estate in all other respects. View "Musland v. Musland" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over the currency-exchange method used to calculate child-support arrears. The parties, previously married and living in Canada, separated in 2010. The Canadian court awarded the mother sole custody of their child and ordered the father to pay monthly child support and spousal support in Canadian dollars. The mother and child moved to Vermont, and the father to New Mexico. In 2013, the Office of Child Support (OCS) began collecting support from the father, converting the Canadian dollar obligation to U.S. dollars using the exchange rate in effect on the date of the Canadian order.The OCS filed a motion with the Vermont family division in 2020 to register the Canadian order and modify the father's child-support obligation to zero, as the child was no longer living with the mother. The father argued that the OCS should have applied the exchange rate in effect at the time he made each payment, as the value of the Canadian dollar had declined significantly since 2010. The magistrate agreed with the father's argument and directed the OCS to recalculate the arrears using the exchange rate in effect on the first day of each year.The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family division’s ruling that the magistrate had discretion to use a different conversion method. However, it reversed the portion of its order upholding the magistrate’s determination that the mother owed the father as a result of the recalculated currency conversion and vacated the magistrate’s order directing the mother to pay the father. The court concluded that it was inequitable to require the mother to repay the father for overpayments resulting from the recalculation, as the father had never objected to the administrative collection of the amounts determined by the OCS. View "Stone v. Henneke" on Justia Law

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The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the State of Nebraska and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are immune from a lawsuit brought by three siblings who were physically and sexually abused in a foster home. The siblings, Joshua M., Sydnie M., and Abigail S., were placed in the foster home by DHHS in 1996. They alleged that DHHS was negligent in recommending and supervising their placement and in failing to remove them from the home when DHHS knew or should have known they were being abused. The court found that the siblings' claims fell within the State Tort Claims Act's exemption for claims arising out of assault or battery, and thus were barred by the State's sovereign immunity. The court also found that DHHS did not breach its duty of care to the siblings. The court affirmed the judgment in favor of DHHS and remanded the case with directions to dismiss the claims against DHHS. The court also affirmed a judgment against the siblings' former foster parent in the amount of $2.9 million. View "Joshua M. v. State" on Justia Law