Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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M.J. (Mother) appeals the order entered following the jurisdiction and disposition hearing in the juvenile dependency case of her minor child, D.S. D.S. was living with his paternal aunt (Aunt), later determined to be his presumed mother. The Agency alleged D.S.'s father was deceased, Mother had previously caused the death of another minor, and Aunt was no longer able to care for D.S. As discussed in the detention report, Mother's parental rights were terminated after she was charged and convicted of killing D.S.'s brother. D.S. had been placed in the care of his father, who subsequently died suddenly in March 2018. Aunt assumed care for D.S., but reported to the Agency that she could not currently care for D.S. due to her own health issues. In a report prepared for the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the Agency detailed its inquiry into whether the Indian Child Welfare Act applied to the proceedings. The Agency stated: (1) Mother denied having any Indian heritage; (2) D.S.'s great-grandmother stated that her great-grandmother (D.S.'s great-great-great-great-grandmother) was "affiliated with the Sioux and Blackfeet tribes;" (3) Aunt denied that she or [her grandmother] have ever lived on an Indian reservation, have a tribal enrollment number or identification card indicating membership/citizenship in an Indian tribe; and (4) Aunt denied she has any reason to believe D.S. was an Indian child. Mother contended the court erred by not complying with the inquiry provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Court of Appeal concluded after review that the juvenile court's finding that the Agency completed its further inquiry was supported by the evidence. Similarly, there is substantial evidence supporting the juvenile court's conclusion that "there is no reason to believe or know that [ICWA] applies." View "In re D.S." on Justia Law

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This proceeding concerned three children, ages seven, four, and two. Their parents had an extensive history of drug abuse, treatments, and relapses. After one such relapse in 2018, after a hypodermic needle was found under a sofa cushion in the family home, Orange County Social Services Agency ("SSA") petitioned to take the children into protective custody.Both mother and father consistently drug tested over the protracted course of the jurisdictional/dispositional hearing, which did not finish up until late July 2019, ten months after the children were removed. Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5 (b)(13), allowed a court to bypass reunification services to parents if they had “a history of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of drugs or alcohol and [have] resisted prior court-ordered treatment for this problem during a three-year period immediately prior to the filing of the petition . . . .” This appeal concerned the meaning of the word “resist.” The parents in this case indisputably had the sort of history that satisfied the first condition of subdivision (b)(13). They contended, however, and the court found, that they had not resisted a court-ordered treatment program: they simply relapsed. SSA and the children appealed, contending that the parents’ extensive history of relapses irrefutably demonstrated so-called passive resistance. The Court of Appeal found it was "compelled" to break with the line of cases that interpreted subdivision (b)(13) as encompassing passive resistance, where passive resistance simply means relapse. "The bypass provision was intended for parents who refuse to participate meaningfully in a court-ordered drug treatment program, not parents who slip up on their road to recovery." The Court determined the parents her did not "resist" treatment; thus the trial court correctly offered them reunification services. View "In re B.E." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the juvenile court's order taking jurisdiction over his son. The court held that the juvenile court erred by failing to appoint counsel for father, despite his numerous requests. Because it was reasonably probable that a more favorable result would have been reached had the juvenile court appointed an attorney for father, the court held that the juvenile court's error required reversal. Therefore, the trial court is directed to appoint counsel for father and commence de novo an arraignment hearing and a jurisdiction hearing without delay. View "In re Andrew M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Mother, M.G., and Father, A.G., both petitioned for an extraordinary writ in the dependency cases of their children, A.G. and C.G. They challenged the juvenile court’s order after a contested review hearing. The court terminated family reunification services for Mother and Father and set a Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.261 hearing for March 19, 2020. Mother and Father assert the court erred by setting the .26 hearing because there was an insufficient evidentiary showing the children would be at risk in their care. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with the parents that Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) failed to present sufficient evidence the children would be at risk if returned to their parents. View "M.G. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal conditionally reversed the juvenile court's disposition order removing father's children from his custody and continuing their placement in foster care. The court held that CWS was required to complete its Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) inquiry and notification process at least 10 days before the disposition hearing, because CWS sought continuance of foster care. Accordingly, the court remanded to the juvenile court for the limited purpose of allowing CWS to comply with ICWA. View "In re N.D." on Justia Law

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Father knew his son, C.B., had been addicted to drugs for a number of years, and "had paid on numerous prior occasions" for C.B. to undergo "detox and/or drug rehabilitation and treatment programs to treat his addiction." C.B. was not employed and was "dependent" on Father for financial support. Father provided "regular, consistent, and frequent financial support" to C.B., which included paying for C.B.'s housing and living expenses as well as giving him money for spending and "necessities of life." The question posed by this appeal was whether Father could be held liable for the death of his son's girlfriend by overdose on methamphetamine allegedly purchased or supplied by the adult son. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of a wrongful death complaint filed against Father. The trial court concluded no special relationship existed between Father and his adult son such that Father should be held liable for wrongful death of the girlfriend. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed and affirmed dismissal. View "K.G. v. S.B." on Justia Law

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When E.D. was 17 years old, a high school teacher began engaging in sex with her in his classroom. The situation was discovered after several months. The teacher admitted engaging in sexual intercourse with E.D. 10-20 times while she was a minor. The principal had previously disciplined the teacher for inappropriate contact with a student but the conduct had not been reported to authorities; no steps were taken to monitor the teacher’s contact with other female students. E.D. brought claims against the teacher for sexual abuse, against the school defendants for negligence and breach of statutory duties in failing to adequately supervise teachers and protect students, and against all the defendants for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; her foster mother joined in the claims of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. They alleged that they were not required to present a claim to the School District under the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code 810) due to the exemption for claims of sexual abuse of a minor, section 905(m). The District had enacted its own claim presentation requirement, purportedly overriding section 905(m) The court of appeal reversed the dismissal of E.D.’s causes of action. The Legislature has consistently expanded the ability of childhood sexual abuse victims to seek compensation but it is not clear that it intended to provide relatives the same rights as direct victims. View "Coats v. New Haven Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that the juvenile court erred in denying grandmother de facto parent status, and compounded the error by refusing to allow grandmother an opportunity to present evidence or argument at the purported "hearing" on the Welfare and Institutions Code section 387 petition. The court rejected respondent's argument that the appeal was moot, because a decision in this appeal could affect grandmother's visitation with the children, as well as her ability to effectively parent the adopted son still in her custody. Accordingly, the court reversed the juvenile court's order sustaining the section 387 petition. View "In re Justin O." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Patricia petitioned for the dissolution of her marriage to Thomas in 2001. A dissolution judgment entered in 2002; a judgment on reserved issues entered in 2008. In 2005, trial court Commissioner Oleon determined, based Thomas’s conduct in the dissolution proceedings and two separate civil actions, that Thomas was a vexatious litigant, and issued an order, prohibiting him from filing any new litigation or motion in propria persona without obtaining leave of the presiding judge. Thomas was also ordered to cover Patricia's attorney fees. In 2006, Thomas unsuccessfully moved (Code of Civil Procedure 170.1) to have Oleon disqualified. Weeks later, Thomas filed another section 170.1 challenge; the court failed to timely respond. Months later, notwithstanding his disqualification, Oleon reentered his previous vexatious litigant orders, effective from 7/29/05 because, when entering his original orders, he neglected to file a mandatory form. In 2018, Thomas complained to the presiding judge regarding Oleon’s post-disqualification involvement. The court issued an order to show cause, then reaffirmed that Thomas qualifies as a vexatious litigant and reimposed the pre-filing order. The court of appeal affirmed, noting that “Thomas appears to have used the opportunity ... to make implicit threats against various members of the California judiciary and State Bar.” The court upheld the 2018 orders as supported by substantial evidence and rejected an argument that a nonplaintiff litigant cannot be designated a vexatious litigant. View "Marriage of Deal" on Justia Law

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The parties were married for 21 years before seeking dissolution. Both are physicians; they met in medical school. The trial court denied Wife’s request for spousal support orders because she suffered criminal convictions for acts of domestic violence against Husband and had not overcome the rebuttable presumption set forth in Family Code section 43251 against an award of support to a spouse convicted of domestic violence. The court of appeal affirmed, finding substantial evidence to support the trial court’s factual determinations, The court also upheld the characterization of post-separation payments Husband made to Wife by depositing $10,000 into a joint account for Wife’s use in lieu of temporary spousal support, pursuant to the agreement of the parties. The court of appeal rejected an argument that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over temporary spousal support at the time of the trial and did not have jurisdiction to make retroactive orders and that the trial court erred when it found the deposits taxable to Wife and deductible by Husband. View "In re: Marriage of Brewster and Clevenger" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law