Collins v. Haynes, 030719 MDSCA, 1154-2018
|Opinion Judge:||GRAEFF, J.|
|Party Name:||SHARDAI COLLINS v. DWAYNE HAYNES|
|Judge Panel:||Graeff, Nazarian, Arthur, JJ.|
|Case Date:||March 07, 2019|
|Court:||Court of Special Appeals of Maryland|
Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAD-17-00172
Graeff, Nazarian, Arthur, JJ.
Shardai Collins, appellant, appeals the July 18, 2018, order of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County granting pendente lite custody of her minor child, J.H., to the child's father, Dwayne Haynes, appellee. She presents the following questions for this Court's review, which we have rephrased slightly, as follows: 1. Did the trial court err when it provided a pro se litigant with legal advice by directing him to file an additional motion to bring the issue of custody before the court?
2. Did the trial court violate Ms. Collins' due process rights in holding an evidentiary hearing and entering a sua sponte order transferring custody from Ms. Collins to Mr. Haynes less than two hours after Mr. Haynes filed an improperly pled motion for modification?
3. Did the trial court fail to properly evaluate the "best interests of the child" in awarding temporary custody to Mr. Haynes, who had been granted only supervised visits by the same court less than a year prior?
For the reasons set forth below, we shall reverse the judgment of the circuit court.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Ms. Collins and Mr. Haynes are the parents of one minor child, J.H, who was born in September 2016.1 They were never married.
On August 31, 2017, following an evidentiary hearing on the merits, the circuit court issued an order awarding Ms. Collins sole custody of J.H., with Mr. Haynes having supervised visitation. The court ordered that Ms. Collins and Mr. Haynes be awarded joint legal custody of J.H., with Ms. Collins having "final decision making authority."
On May 21, 2018, less than nine months later, Mr. Haynes filed a Petition for Protection from Child Abuse in the District Court for Charles County, alleging that, on May 18, 2018, Ms. Collins had been admitted to the hospital for a drug overdose. He requested that the court grant the petition for the well-being of himself and J.H.
That same day, the court issued a temporary protective order against Ms. Collins based on reasonable grounds to believe that Ms. Collins "allegedly took a large amount of prescription medication while caring for [J.H.]."2 The case was transferred to Prince George's County, and on June 5, 2018, the circuit court issued an order extending the temporary order until a hearing scheduled for July 10, 2018.3
On June 6, 2018, the Charles County Department of Social Services (the "Department") filed a report regarding the Temporary Protective Order, which stated, in pertinent part, as follows: On May 19, 2018, Ms. Collins attempted to overdose on prescription medication resulting in her being transferred to the hospital and her child being placed in a temporary foster home. . . .
According to Mr. Haynes, this was not the first time Ms. Collins has taken too much medication. Ms. Collins did not deny this but stated that this was the first time [she did so] with her child present. By deliberately taking too much medicati[on] with [J.H.] present, Ms. Collins placed the child at significant risk of harm. [J.H.] was asleep in his crib . . . . until someone would have come to the apartment. Ms. Collins is new to her job and area. She indicated that she does not know anyone in the area making it concerning if anyone would have to come to check on the child. Therefore[, ] the Department is making the following recommendations:
1. [J.H.] remain in the care and custody of his father, Mr. Dewayne Haynes. 4
2. Ms. Collins has supervised visitation with [J.H.] until further stated by the [Department] or the courts.
3. The family receives In Home Services to ensure the safety of the children.
4. Ms. Collins actively participates in her mental health services.
On July 18, 2018, the circuit court held a hearing on Mr. Haynes' Petition for Protection from Child Abuse. Ms. Collins was represented by counsel and Mr. Haynes proceeded self-represented.
Counsel for Ms. Collins moved to dismiss the petition because there was no abuse.5Counsel argued that Mr. Haynes was merely attempting to redo the custody litigation.
Without any response from Mr. Haynes, the court stated that it was "going to pass this," explaining to Mr. Haynes that the only thing in front of the court was the request for the protective order, and there was "some validity" to the argument that there was not "an act of abuse." The court stated, however, that the report from the Department "raises concerns in my mind as to the appropriate arrangement," so it advised Mr. Haynes to "go down the hallway and . . . file a motion for modification of the custody arrangement."
The following then occurred: [ATTORNEY FOR MS. COLLINS]: I would object to that. He has supervised visits for a reason.
THE COURT: Okay. And Child Protective Services recommended that she have supervised visitation for a reason. So the Court's obligation is to look out for the best interests of the child. I don't know what the facts will show and I'm going to give you all a full hearing to talk about it.
But in the meantime, you file a motion for modification so it will be before me. And we're going to see-if your client is claiming that the statements from the Child Protective Services investigator are not correct, we'll see if we can get her here.
* * *
I'm going to have a full hearing, at which I'll hear all the evidence surrounding all of it and we'll see about what's the appropriate situation.
Proceedings resumed less than two hours later, and the court stated that Mr. Haynes had filed a motion for modification of custody. The record reflects, however, that the motion Mr. Haynes filed was a "Motion for Modification and or Contempt," which asked the circuit court to "hear [his] plan for [J.H.] to have a successful relationship with both parents." The motion did not include a specific request for a modification of custody or that he be given physical custody of J.H.
The court advised counsel that Mary Cupples, the author of the Department's report, was on vacation and not available to testify that day. The court asked counsel what they wanted to do.6 Counsel stated it renewed the motion to dismiss the protective order, but if that motion was not granted, it wanted to proceed with the hearing that day. When the court asked if counsel objected to a continuance to allow Ms. Cupples to be present, counsel said yes, noting that there was an emergent need that the court understand what would happen if J.H. were put in Mr. Haynes' custody that day. 7
Mr. Haynes then testified. He explained that he did not "bring us here today for any child abuse to" J.H., but he was "advised to file a protective order." He then testified that he had limited access with J.H., and Ms. Collins had told others that he was sleeping with clients, which hurt his business. He stated that J.H. had never lived with him, although J.H. had spent the night with him two times. He testified that his visitation was cancelled after Ms. Collins made accusations that he had been sleeping with the person supervising his visitation with J.H.
Ms. Collins testified that J.H. had "severe health issues," including asthma and allergies, and he had been hospitalized several times due to the condition. J.H. used an oxygen...
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