Bianka M. v. Superior Court of L. A. Cnty., S233757

Citation236 Cal.Rptr.3d 610,5 Cal.5th 1004,423 P.3d 334
Decision Date16 August 2018
Docket NumberS233757
Parties BIANKA M., a Minor, etc., Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent; Gladys M., Real Party in Interest.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)

Irell & Manella, Miller Barondess, Joshua C. Lee, West Sacramento, Emily A. Sanchirico, David A. Schwarz, Stephen A. Rossi, Los Angeles, Meiqiang Cui ; Public Counsel, Judith London; Immigrant Defenders Law Center, University of Baltimore School of Law, Immigrant Rights Clinic and Nickole G. Miller, for Petitioner.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Edward C. Dumont, State Solicitor General, Michael J. Mongan, Deputy State Solicitor General, and Samuel P. Siegel, Associate Deputy State Solicitor General, for Attorney General as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Erin C. Smith, San Jose, Jennafer D. Wagner, Nancy Lemon, Shuray Ghorishi, Walnut Creek, Catherine Ongiri, Anya Emerson; Mayer Brown, Donald M. Falk, Samantha Booth, Palo Alto, Lilya Mitelman; and Jane K. Stoever, for Family Violence Appellate Project, the University of California, Irvine School of Law Domestic Violence Clinic, Alternatives to Violence, the California Women's Law Center, Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, Professor Wendy M. Seiden, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services in Southeast Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice and the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Inc., as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Julian W. Poon, Eric A. Westlund, Los Angeles, Nathanial P. Johnson, Victor Lee, Lali Madduri, Jennifer Rho, Los Angeles, Sarah G. Reisman and Daniel M. Bruggebrew, San Francisco, for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice and the Immigrant Defenders Law Center as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

O'Melveny & Myers, Matthew W. Close, David A. Lash, Los Angeles, Marion M. Read, Kelly Volkar, San Francisco, and Katie Gosewehr, Menlo Park, for Mental Health Organizations as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Ribet & Silver and Claudia Ribet, Beverly Hills, for the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law and the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Horvitz & Levy, Barry R. Levy, Burbank, Mark A. Kressel, Encino, and Allison W. Meredith, Burbank, for Senator Kevin de Leon, President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate, Anthony Rendon, Speaker of the California State Assembly, Senator Toni Atkins, Speaker Emeritus of the California State Assembly, Senator Ben Hueso, Chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus and Senator Ricardo Lara, former Chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Daniel Grunfeld, David Sean Cox, Nicolette L. Young, Lauren S. Schwartz, Los Angeles, and Thomas M. Peterson, San Francisco, for Legal Services for Children, Immigration Center for Women and Children, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

No appearance for Real Party in Interest.

Barnes & Thornburg, L. Rachel Lerman and Joseph Wahl, Los Angeles, as Amici Curiae, upon the request of the Supreme Court.


At the age of 10, petitioner Bianka M., a native and citizen of Honduras, entered the United States unaccompanied and without prior authorization. After a brief detention by federal authorities, she was reunited with her mother, who had left Honduras for the United States many years before. In a family court action naming her mother as the respondent, Bianka asked for an order placing her in her mother's sole custody. She also asked the court to issue findings that would enable her to seek "special immigrant juvenile" status under federal immigration law—a classification that permits immigrant children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents to apply for lawful permanent residence while remaining in the United States. (See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J) ; Code Civ. Proc., § 155.) She alleges that her father, who resides in Honduras, has abandoned her and that it is not in her interest to return to her home country. Although she has notified her father of the action, he has taken no steps to participate.

The superior court denied Bianka's requests. The court concluded it could not issue either a custody order or findings relevant to special immigrant juvenile status unless Bianka first established a basis for exercising personal jurisdiction over her father and joined him as a party to the action. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling. We granted review to determine whether the superior court properly required the child's nonresident, noncustodial parent to be joined as a party in her parentage action seeking special immigrant juvenile findings. We also consider whether, as certain language in the Court of Appeal's opinion might suggest, the child's perceived immigration-related motivations for filing the action have any bearing on whether the action may proceed. Our answer to both questions is no. Provided that the absent parent has received adequate notice, the action may proceed even if the parent is beyond the personal jurisdiction of the court and cannot be joined as a party. The action may also proceed regardless of whether the court believes it was filed primarily for the purpose of obtaining the protections from abuse, neglect, or abandonment that federal immigration law provides. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remand for further proceedings.


The facts are taken from Bianka's petition and supporting documentation. Bianka was born in 2002 in Honduras to Gladys M. In 2005, Gladys moved to the United States in search of better employment opportunities, leaving Bianka in the care of an older daughter. Despite the physical distance between them, Bianka and Gladys maintained a close relationship. Gladys frequently called to check on Bianka's well-being and sent half of her weekly income for Bianka's care.

Bianka's father is Jorge L., a resident of Honduras. Gladys and Jorge had a 15-year relationship but were never married. During their relationship, the pair had four children together, of whom Bianka is the youngest. Their relationship ended around the time Bianka was born, and Jorge has refused to develop a relationship with Bianka. According to Bianka and Gladys, Jorge has rejected several desperate pleas for financial support. Gladys also claims that Jorge often physically abused her, once using the blunt end of a machete to beat her while she was pregnant with Bianka.

When Bianka left Honduras for the United States at the age of 10, she sought to escape the rampant violence in her home country and reunite with her mother. Bianka asserts that there are no longer relatives in a position to take care of her in Honduras. Federal immigration officials initially detained Bianka at the border, but she was later released to Gladys's custody. Bianka now resides with Gladys in Los Angeles.


Bianka initiated this action under the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA; Fam. Code, § 7600 et seq. ), the statutory framework governing judicial determinations of "the legal relationship existing between a child and the child's natural or adoptive parents incident to which the law confers or imposes rights, privileges, duties, and obligations." ( Fam. Code, § 7601, subd. (b).) In a petition naming Gladys as the sole respondent, Bianka asked the court to find a legal parent-child relationship between her and Gladys and to award Gladys sole legal and physical custody. (Id. , §§ 3006, 3007.) In addition, Bianka asked the court to make the findings necessary to apply for classification as a special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) under federal immigration law.1

Congress first established the SIJ classification in 1990 to provide relief to immigrant children who were eligible for long-term foster care and whose interests would not be served by returning to their country of origin. (Immigration Act of 1990, Pub.L. No. 101–649 (Nov. 29, 1990) 104 Stat. 4978.) Congress has since amended the provisions governing SIJ status several times. In the most recent amendment, passed in 2008, Congress eliminated the requirement that the child be found eligible for foster care. (William WilberforceTrafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Pub.L. No. 110–457, § 235(d)(1)(A) (Dec. 23, 2008), 122 Stat. 5044.) Under the law as amended, a child is eligible for SIJ status if: (1) the child is a dependent of a juvenile court, in the custody of a state agency by court order, or in the custody of an individual or entity appointed by the court; (2) the child cannot reunify with one or both parents due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under state law;2 and (3) it is not in the child's best interest to return to his or her home country or the home country of his or her parents. ( 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J)(i)(ii).) Under federal immigration regulations, each of these findings is to be made in the course of state court proceedings. ( 8 C.F.R. § 204.11(c)(3)(6), (d)(2)(i)(iii) (2009).)3

SIJ applications are reviewed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), an agency within DHS. (See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J)(iii) [requiring DHS's consent to SIJ classification]; 8 C.F.R. §§ 100.1 (2009) [delegating authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act ( 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq. ) to USCIS and other federal agencies], 103.2(a)(7)(i) (2016) [discussing USCIS's adjudication of benefit requests, which includes the primary form for SIJ status].) Once granted, SIJ status permits a recipient to seek lawful permanent residence in the United States, which, in turn, permits the recipient to seek citizenship after five years. (See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1255, 1427.)

To provide a basis for SIJ-eligible children to secure the...

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    ...weight to grandparent involvement as factor in Father’s favor when ruling on mother’s motion. California. Bianka M. v. Superior Court , 5 Cal. 5th 1004 (2018). The court held that if a minor child petitions for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status, the court may proceed in equity and goo......

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