Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, July 21, 2017


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California Supreme Court Holds:

Parents Need Not Be Blameworthy to Lose Custody


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Dependency jurisdiction may be exercised over a child whom the parents cannot control without a finding of blameworthiness on their parts, the California Supreme Court held yesterday.

The case is In re R.T., 17 SOS 3610.

At issue was an interpretation of Welfare and Institutions Code §300(b)(1) which authorizes the juvenile court to exercise dependency jurisdiction if “[t]he child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm or illness, as a result of the failure or inability of his or her parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child....”

That language was interpreted by Div. One of this district’s Court of Appeal on Nov. 8, 2010 in In re Precious D. Then-Presiding Justice Robert M. Mallano (since retired) wrote:

“We hold that, in light of the dependency statutory scheme and federal due process principles, parental unfitness or neglectful conduct must be shown in order to assert dependency court jurisdiction under that part of section 300(b) providing for jurisdiction based on the parent’s ‘ adequately supervise or protect the child.’ ”

Contrary Decision

Div. Two of this district’s Court of Appeal, in its April 2, 2015, opinion in In re R.T., noted the opinion in Precious D.:

“We respectfully disagree” with it, Justice Brian M. Hoffstadt said, “and hold that the language, structure, and purpose of the dependency statutes counsel against Precious Ds conclusion that this provision turns on a finding of parental blameworthiness. When a child thereby faces a substantial risk of serious physical harm, a parent’s inability to supervise or protect a child is enough by itself to invoke the juvenile court’s dependency jurisdiction.”

Resolving the conflict, the Supreme Court sided with Div. Two. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Ming Chin wrote:

“[W]e agree with the Court of Appeal here that the first clause of section 300(b)(1) authorizes dependency jurisdiction without a finding that a parent is at fault or blameworthy for her failure or inability to supervise or protect her child.”

‘Chronic Runaway’

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services had found that the mother, Lisa E., “is unable to provide appropriate parental care and supervision of the child due to the child’s chronic runaway behavior and acting out behavior.”

It added:

“The child refused to return to the mother’s home and care. Such inability to provide appropriate parental care and supervision of the child by the mother endangers the child’s physical health and safety and places the child at risk of physical harm, damage and danger.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marguerite Downing granted the department’s petition.

Chin wrote:

“In arguing that dependency jurisdiction over R.T. was not warranted, mother insists she was not at fault or blameworthy because she did everything possible to control R.T.’s incorrigible behavior. We do not disagree—the record reveals her concerted (and at times desperate) efforts to protect and discipline R.T. However, mother’s concept of parental fault or blame is viewed from a ‘moral standpoint,’ which does not directly inform whether a parent can provide a child ‘proper care and supervision.’…Likewise, we agree with mother that she did not create the danger that R.T. would be at risk of serious physical harm….However…, a parent’s conduct—short of actually creating the danger a child faces—may still satisfy the standard required under the first clause of section 300(b)(1).”

Justice Goodwin Liu added thoughts in a concurring opinion.


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