Tuesday, October 18, 2016
C.A. Rejects Refugee’s Bid for Juvenile Placement
Panel Says Court Lacked Jurisdiction Because Child Had Turned 18
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A juvenile court may not grant a placement to a minor who turns 18 while a petition is pending, and who has not been adjudged a dependent prior to that, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. One Friday ordered publication of its Sept. 21 opinion affirming an Alameda Superior Court judge’s ruling that he lost jurisdiction over the petition filed by county authorities in the case of a Guatemalan refugee identified as W.C.
According the petition, W.C. was born in 1997 and came to the country on his own in 2014. He was taken into custody at the border, told officials his mother was dead and his father missing, and was eventually placed with a distant relative in Oakland. He did not get along with the relative, however, and became homeless.
After problems in school, including drug use and an incident in which he intentionally cut himself, he was taken to a hospital for a psychological assessment, but was not treated because he was uninsured and there was no parent or guardian who could approve the assessment being done.
He moved into a youth shelter, and later told authorities he was working and living with a friend. He continued to attend school until he was suspended for drug use, shoplifting, and possessing a knife. He told school officials in April of last year that he needed to be in protective custody.
A dependency petition was then filed, with the county Social Services Agency alleging he was abandoned. The court granted a temporary placement, and on April 30 found that W.C. was subject to jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code §300, and set a disposition hearing for May 26.
The agency prepared a report for the hearing, but recommended the petition be dismissed on the ground the court lost jurisdiction because the minor turned 18 May 1. The judge concurred and dismissed the petition, a ruling that was not appealed.
On Feb. 10 of this year, the minor requested a return to the court’s jurisdiction and placement in foster care, pursuant to legislation enacted in 2011 that allows former foster children to return to the system after they turn 18. The agency responded that because W.C. had never been adjudged dependent and was no longer a minor, dependency jurisdiction could no longer be exercised.
Superior Court Judge Charles Smiley III agreed with the agency and dismissed the petition.
Justice Robert Dondero, writing for the appeals panel, agreed, rejecting W.C.’s contention that the court could grant him a placement because he was found to be subject to juvenile court jurisdiction before he turned 18. Such potential returnees are referred to in the legislation as “dependents” and commonly referred to as “nonminor dependents.”
W.C. did not qualify, Dondero concluded, because the juvenile court’s April 2015 “preliminary determination” that he was subject to its jurisdiction did not make him a dependent.
That status, the justice explained, can only be acquired once evidence is heard at a dispositional hearing and judgment is entered.
“What took place on April 30, 2015 was a jurisdictional order,” Dondero said, and not the equivalent of a determination of dependency following a dispositional hearing.
Because none of the parties appealed, or sought reconsideration of, the dismissal of the first petition, that order constitutes a binding determination that W.C. never acquired the status of a dependent, and thus does not qualify for return to the court’s jurisdiction, the justice said.
The case is In re W.C., 16 S.O.S. 5125.
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