Emotional interest falls short of legal standing to appeal dependency ruling

As a general rule, only a person “aggrieved” by a judgment has standing to appeal from it. Is a mother without reunification services “aggrieved” by a judgment granting her 18-year-old child’s request for the termination of dependency jurisdiction? The Court of Appeal answers “no” in In re J.C., case no. G048720 (4th Dist. January 21, 2014), and dismisses the appeal.

J.C., the child of divorced parents, had been living with her father before being declared a dependent of the court a few months after her 15th birthday, when the court found that her father failed to ensure she attended school or get treatment for a psychiatric condition. After treatment at a facility, J.C. was placed in foster care and continued to improve. On her 18th birthday, she asked the court to terminate dependency jurisdiction (though she could have remained a dependent until age 21) so she could return to living with her father. Her mother appealed.

Emotion naturally runs high in dependency cases, but standing based on emotional concern for a child is not enough to confer legal standing to appeal:

Mother asserts she has standing because the termination of jurisdiction resulted in J.C. living with father, and mother worries father will neglect J.C.’s psychiatric treatment, which will damage mother’s relationship with J.C. That interest, while perfectly understandable on an emotional level, does not confer legal standing.

The court does not casually dismiss mother’s interest here. The opinion walks the reader through the standing analysis rather clearly, starting with the proposition that while standing to appeal is liberally construed, only a person “aggrieved” by a decision may appeal from it. That requires a court to “precisely identify [the appellant’s] interest in the matter.”

The court noted that a parent’s interest in the companionship, care, custody and management of a child “is no longer paramount” once reunification services end; at that point, “the focus shifts to the needs of the child for permanency and stability.” Mother this faced an uphill battle to prove standing because her interest had been “significantly reduced” upon the termination of reunification services

But it was the fact that J.C. had turned 18 that ultimately precluded standing. The Court stated that J.C.’s decision to ask for termination of dependency jurisdiction was an exercise of her “rights and responsibilities that come with adulthood” and thus not subject to parental oversight — a point illustrated by the fact that mother was not even entitled to notice of the hearing on J.C.’s request for termination of dependency jurisdiction.

California Supremes keep Ninth Circuit Prop 8 appeal alive

The California Supreme Court’s much-anticipated opinion in Perry v. Brown was filed this morning. The court unanimously found that the Prop 8 proponents, who have a pending Ninth Circuit appeal from the federal district court decision finding the law unconstitutional, have standing to defend the law in court when the state attorney general refuses to do so. Answering certification of that question from the Ninth Circuit, the California Supreme Court concludes its long (61-page) decision with an unequivocal “yes”:

In response to the question submitted by the Ninth Circuit, we conclude, for the reasons discussed above, that when the public officials who ordinarily defend a challenged state law or appeal a judgment invalidating the law decline to do so, under article II, section 8 of the California Constitution and the relevant provisions of the Elections Code, the official proponents of a voter-approved initiative measure are authorized to assert the state‘s interest in the initiative‘s validity, enabling the proponents to defend the constitutionality of the initiative and to appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative.

As a result of the decision, Prop 8 proponents will be able to proceed with their appeal in the Ninth Circuit, where the proponents’ appeal has been hanging by a thread since the Ninth Circuit certified its question to the California Supreme Court last January, acknowledging that the appeal would have to be dismissed if the Prop 8 proponents lacked standing to defend the law.

Related post at Ninth Circuit Blog of Appeals.

Court has No Duty During Recommitment Proceedings to Consider Suitability for Outpatient Treatment

In People v. Rish, case no. B198727 (2d Dist. June 16, 2008), Rish appealed from from an order recommitting him to the California Department of Mental Health for treatment as a mentally disordered offender pursuant to Penal Code section 2972.  He claimed that the trial court erred by failing to consider whether he was suitable for outpatient treatment, even though he did not raise this alternative in the trial court.

The Court of Appeal determines that Rish waived the issue by failing to raise it.  As a matter of statutory construction, Section 2972, subdivision (d) does not impose a duty on the court to evaluate suitability for outpatient treatment sua sponte.

The court reached the issue even though it had been mooted by the trial court’s entry of a subsequent order extending Rish’s commitment for an additional one-year term and setting a hearing to address his suitability for outpatient treatment.  It found the issue “capable of repetition, yet evading review” because commitment petitions must be filed on an annual basis, making it likely the trial court would decide a new petition prior to appellate review of the prior sustained petition.

Petition by One Parent in Juvenile Proceedings Does not Give other Parent Standing to Appeal Resulting Order

Rooting for the mother of your children to win her petition for modification isn’t enough to give you standing to appeal the ensuing order denying modification.  Thus, in In re D.S., case no. C055069 (3d Dist. Oct. 31, 2007), the court of appeal dismisses the father’s appeal from the order denying the mother’s petition for modification.

Appellant father appealed both from the order denying mother’s petition for modification and from the order terminating his and the mother’s parental rights.  But he never joined in the petition, which the court denied as untimely.  Since he did not join in the petition, he is not aggrieved by its denial, which had no effect on any right personal to him.

Not Every Procedural Error is Jurisdictional

I know that sounds self-evident. But a jurisdictional challenge is your last hope on appeal if you’re relying on procedural irregularities that you let pass without objection. That’s because a jurisdictional defect can be raised any time in the course of the proceedings, so a party on appeal does not have to worry about having waived it.

But the appellant in In re Angel S., case no. C054446 (3d Dist. Oct. 23, 2007, modified and ordered published Nov. 13, 2007) isn’t able to pull it off.

The appellant in Angel S. had her probate guardianship of her 2-year-old great niece terminated after the girl suffered severe head injuries in appellant’s care and appellant later failed to complete steps ordered in the reunification services plan. She claimed that the juvenile court that terminated the guardianship lacked jurisdiction to do so because the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services petitioned to end the guardianship under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 instead of by a motion under section 728 and did not give notice of the hearing to the minor’s father or establish that good faith attempts to locate him had failed.

But neither of these errors is jurisdictional, says the court. Section 728 conferred fundamental jurisdiction on the juvenile court to terminate the guardianship. Bringing the petition under the wrong section is a mere procedural defect that the appellant waived by failing to object below. As for notice, appellant had no standing to challenge a lack of jurisdiction as to the father that might result from the failure to serve him. She was provided notice of the hearing and appeared.

This case has a nice, succinct discussion of the difference between a lack of fundamental jurisdiction to hear and decide a matter vs. acts “in excess of” a court’s power to act even when it has fundamental jurisdiction. Both are a form of jurisdictional defect, but the distinction is important because the ways in which a lack of jurisdiction may be challenged depend on the type of jurisdictional defect. This case is worth reading for this summary alone.

Mother Ordered to In-Patient Drug Rehabilitation has Standing to Appeal, but Her Kids Don’t

The mother of three minor children is determined to be incapable of providing regular care and supervision for them.  (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 300.)  The children are placed with their maternal grandmother, with supervised visits from the mother.

The juvenile court orders the mother to complete an in-patient drug treatment program as part of the disposition care plan and leaves all prior orders in effect, including the children’s placement and supervised visits from the mother.

Do the children have standing to appeal?  In In re Neil D., case no. B195487 (2d Dist. August 28, 2007, ordered published Sept. 17, 2007), the Court of Appeal says “no.”  Since the order appealed from leaves prior orders in effect, including the children’s placement and visitation, the children are not aggrieved parties.

That answer surprises me a little, because it seems to me that in-patient drug rehabilitation would necessarily interfere with visitation.  Even though the court later notes that the mother could continue to visit while in rehab, it does not rely on that fact in determining that the children lack standing.

Mother, on the other hand, has standing to appeal.  Her claim that the in-patient requirement amounts to coerced incarceration raises a constitutional issue, and the order “arguably affects Mother’s task of reunifying with her children.”