California Supreme Court:
C.A. May Decide Moot Appeal in Child-Dependency Case
Lui Writes for Unanimous Court in Rejecting Notion That Moot Appeal May Be Addressed Only Upon a Showing of ‘Specific Legal or Practical Negative Consequences’ From Jurisdictional Findings Absent a Reversal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court held yesterday that an appeal from a jurisdiction finding by the Los Angeles Juvenile Court that an infant was a dependent child is moot given that the court terminated its jurisdiction upon finding that the child was no longer at risk, but reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss the father’s appeal because it employed the wrong standard in deciding not to entertain his appeal despite mootness.
Justice Goodwin H. Liu wrote for a unanimous court in finding that a remand to Div. Five of this district’s Court of Appeal is required so that the panel may decide whether to address the merits of the appeal having been apprised of its broad discretion to do so.
That court’s Feb. 10, 2021 majority decision was authored by Justice Dorothy Kim and joined in by Justice Lamar Baker. Presiding Justice Laurence D. Rubin dissented, disputing the finding of mootness.
“A dismissal of this case on mootness grounds takes us far afield from the foremost purposes of he dependency system—the protection of children and the preservation of the family….Rather than acting to protect the child and support the family’s well-being, to preserve the jurisdictional finding here creates potentially serious challenges for he parents in their efforts to provide for their family and actively participate in their child’s upbringing.”
“[C]ommon sense tells us that no parent wants to be branded a child abuser, which is exactly what happened in this case. These consequences are neither speculative nor unreasonable, and they are inconsistent with a declaration that this appeal is ‘moot.’ ”
The majority’s view was that the appeal was moot because effective relief could not be granted, and a decision despite mootness would not be appropriate. Kim explained:
“The party seeking such discretionary review…must demonstrate the specific legal or practical negative consequences that will result from the jurisdictional findings they seek to reverse.”
She said that the parents “have failed to identify a specific legal or practical negative consequence resulting from the jurisdictional finding” and that their appeals are therefore dismissed for mootness.
Both parents appealed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig S. Barnes’s Sept. 20, 2019 order finding jurisdiction over their son, D.P., but only the father, Twain Phoung, sought review in the Supreme Court. The finding was based on a chest X-ray revealing a healing rib fracture when the child, then two months old, was brought to a hospital because of difficulty breathing—with the parents expressing surprise that such an injury had been incurred.
‘Stigma’ Not Enough
Disagreeing with Rubin’s view, Liu wrote:
“Although a jurisdictional finding that a parent engaged in abuse or neglect of a child is generally stigmatizing, complaining of ‘stigma’ alone is insufficient to sustain an appeal. The stigma must be paired with some effect on the plaintiffs legal status that is capable of being redressed by a favorable court decision….For example, a case is not moot where a jurisdictional finding affects parental custody rights…, curtails a parent’s contact with his or her child…, or ‘has resulted in [dispositional] orders which continue to adversely affect’ a parent….”
“We express no view on whether stigma alone may be sufficient to avoid mootness in other contexts, including a criminal appeal, or whether a reviewing court’s decision not to reach the merits of the appeal of a jurisdictional finding could ever implicate a parent’s due process rights.”
Reference by the father to other potential consequences, such as being listed on the child abuse central index, are merely speculative, Liu said.
Liu noted that courts of appeal have taken varying approaches in determining whether to review jurisdictional findings despite mootness. Disagreeing with Kim’s method, he said:
“The Court of Appeal here concluded that discretionary review is only appropriate when the parent has ‘demonstrate[d] specific legal or practical negative consequences that will result from the jurisdictional findings they seek to reverse.’ This was error. Whether or not a parent has demonstrated a specific legal or practical consequence that would be avoided upon reversal of the jurisdictional findings is what determines whether the case is moot or not moot. It is not what determines whether a court has discretion to decide the merits of a moot case. To be clear, when a parent has demonstrated a specific legal or practical consequence that will be averted upon reversal, the case is not moot, and merits review is required. When a parent has not made such a showing, the case is moot, but the court has discretion to decide the merits nevertheless.”
“[W]here, as here, the case becomes moot due to prompt compliance by parents with their case plan, discretionary review may be especially appropriate. After all, if D.P.’s parents had not completed their supervision requirements in a timely fashion, the juvenile court’s jurisdiction might have continued during the pendency of Father’s appeal, and no mootness concern would have arisen. It would perversely incentivize noncompliance if mootness doctrine resulted in the availability of appeals from jurisdictional findings only for parents who are less compliant or for whom the court has issued additional orders.”
The case is In re D.P., 2023 S.O.S. 206.
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