Juvenile Court May Exercise Jurisdiction Over a Child Even Without Parental Negligence or Abuse - In re Maricela H.

December 6, 2012
By Thomas M. Huguenor on December 6, 2012 11:40 AM |

800px-OldPasadena3.JPGA mother appealed a court order giving jurisdiction over her daughter to the juvenile court. She argued, in In re Maricela H., that insufficient evidence existed to support the court's finding because no evidence demonstrated that she was in any way abusive or negligent. The appellate court held that the plain language of the statute does not require actual abuse or negligence, and that the evidence supported the court's ruling. A dissenting judge held that, even with the majority's interpretation of the statute, the juvenile court's jurisdiction was unwarranted.

According to the appellate court's opinion, the mother had little to no control over her daughter, Maricela H. The girl rarely told her mother where she was going, and she abused drugs and alcohol. The mother took Maricela's son in 2010 and cared for him after Maricela gave birth to him at the age of 15. Maricela reportedly left home again on September 16, 2011 and threatened to take the baby with her. In response, the mother contacted the police and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

DFCS took the baby into custody and placed Maricela into a Pasadena group home. Maricela reportedly expressed a desire to improve, but she continued to act out and abuse drugs. After she ran away from the home on November 8, 2011, she was detained, and DCFS filed a petition under California Welfare and Institutions Code § 300 to have her declared a dependent. Her behavior reportedly improved after that incident. The court declared her a dependent under § 300(b), based on a finding that she was at risk of "serious physical harm or illness" due to her mother's "failure or inability...to adequately supervise or protect" her. The mother appealed this decision.

The mother argued on appeal that the evidence did not support the trial court’s findings. Specifically, she argued that DFCS did not produce any evidence to show that she “did anything wrong.” No evidence demonstrating actual negligence or abuse on her part, she claimed, and therefore her daughter should not be under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. The appellate court disagreed, finding that DFCS is not required to prove “parental fault” in order to establish dependant jurisdiction. In reaching this conclusion, the court looked at the plain language of the statute.

Section 300(b)’s language, the court found, is unambiguous, and therefore it interpreted it according to the plain meaning of its words. That particular section does not require any overt act by a parent, referring instead to a parent’s “failure” or “inability” to protect or care for a child. Other subsections, such as § 300(a), explicitly mention parental misconduct, giving subsection (b)’s omission of such language greater weight. The court held that Maricela’s behavioral situation merited a finding of dependency within the meaning of subsection (b).

The lone dissenting judge, while agreeing with the majority’s interpretation of the statute, disagreed with the factual findings. The daughter’s worst behavior occurred while in the group home, the mother was active in trying to obtain services, and she took in Maricela’s baby. The daughter did not seem to blame the mother, leading the dissenting judge to conclude that she would not benefit from a court order declaring her mother to be in the wrong.

Thomas Huguenor is a divorce and child custody lawyer certified by the State of California. For more than 35 years, he has represented people in San Diego finding their way through the California divorce process. Contact us today online or at (858) 458-9500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Parent's Drug Use, Tardiness to School are Insufficient to Show Risk of Imminent Harm to a Child in a Dependency Proceeding, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, November 29, 2012

California Couple in Ghana to Adopt Children Accused of Child Trafficking and Jailed, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, November 15, 2012

California Supreme Court Affirms Adjudication of Dependency of Two Children Due to Sibling's Death in a Car Accident: Los Angeles Co. Dep't of Children and Family Svcs. v. William C, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, October 18, 2012

Photo credit: 'Old Pasadena 3' by Awadewit (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.