Dependency of J.B.S., In re, 60084-8

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation122 Wn.2d 131,856 P.2d 694
Decision Date19 August 1993
Docket NumberNo. 60084-8,60084-8
Parties, 21 Media L. Rep. 2048, 39 A.L.R.5th 849 In re the DEPENDENCY OF J.B.S. Teresa SCOTT, et al., Petitioner, v. The DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES et al., Respondents. En Banc

Speidel Law Firm, Earl W. Murdock, Wenatchee, for petitioner Teresa Scott.

Bogle & Gates, Evan L. Schwab, David R. Goodnight and Douglas R. Davis, Seattle, Stansfield & Schuler, Mark E. Stansfield, Quincy, for petitioner J.B.S.

Christine Gregoire, Atty. Gen., Lesley A. Allan and Jill B. Keller, Asst. Attys. Gen., Wenatchee, for respondent State.

Daniel M. Arnold, Cent. Washington Legal Defenders, Wenatchee, for respondent Blas Beltran.

Foster, Pepper & Shefelman, David Utevsky, Seattle, for Hearst Corp.

JOHNSON, Justice.

The Superior Court entered an order in this dependency action placing J.B.S., a minor child and citizen of the United States, with his putative father, a noncitizen who resides in Mexico. J.B.S. and his mother have sought review of this order, which is pending in this court. At issue here is a motion by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) to open the appellate court hearings and unseal the record in this case. J.B.S., through his guardian ad litem, 1 and his mother, Teresa Scott, have joined in the motion to open the proceedings. The Department of Social and Health Services (the Department) and the father, Blas Benicio Beltran, oppose the P-I's motion. We grant the motion.


J.B.S. was born 4 years ago in April 1989. Beltran lived with Scott and the child until J.B.S. was 2 months old, at which time Scott separated from Beltran. Subsequently, Beltran was convicted of one count of delivery and one count of possession of cocaine. In December 1991, after serving his sentence, he was deported to Mexico by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

J.B.S. continued to live with his mother in the Wenatchee area until early 1991, when state officials placed him in a foster home. In late 1991, the Department began investigating the option of placing J.B.S. with his father.

In October and November 1992, a commissioner for the juvenile division of the Chelan County Superior Court conducted hearings on the Department's motion for a change of placement for J.B.S. On December 17, 1992, the commissioner entered an order placing the child with Beltran in Mexico. Five days later, the P-I published an article outlining the details of the custody dispute and J.B.S.'s imminent transfer by the Department to his father in Mexico.

On December 31, 1992, the court denied a motion for revision and authorized the Department to begin transferring J.B.S. to Mexico that afternoon. The court also ordered the parties, counsel, and foster parents not to discuss the matter with the media, including the P-I, because the dependency proceeding was closed under RCW 13.34.

J.B.S. and Teresa Scott immediately moved for review by Division Three of the Court of Appeals and brought a motion for an emergency stay. The commissioner for the Court of Appeals heard the motion by telephone on December 31 and orally granted a temporary stay.

Prior to the telephone conference, a reporter for the P-I requested permission to monitor the conference for the emergency motion. After consulting with the parties, the commissioner denied the request and closed the argument to the public, and thereby the press, on the grounds the dependency proceeding was closed under RCW 13.34.110.

On January 15, 1993, the Hearst Corporation, publisher of the P-I, filed a "motion to open hearings and unseal files" in the Court of Appeals. On February 12, 1993, the commissioner ruled the entire matter was reviewable either as a matter of right in accordance with In re Chubb, 112 Wash.2d 719, 725, 773 P.2d 851 (1989), or as a matter of discretion under RAP 2.3(b), and granted review. The Court of Appeals then certified the entire case to this court, including both review of the Superior Court's order and the P-I's motion to open files. This court accepted certification, granted direct review, and scheduled the motion for hearing and decision separately from the underlying appeal. Review of the Superior Court's order will be heard at a later date.


At issue is whether the appellate court files, briefs, and oral argument in this appeal should be open to the public or whether they must be closed pursuant to RCW 13.34.110 and RCW 13.50. RCW 13.34.110 provides that the general public shall be excluded from dependency hearings. RCW 13.50 governs the keeping and releasing of dependency records by juvenile justice or care agencies. RCW 13.50.100(2) states: "Records covered by this section shall be confidential and shall be released only pursuant to this section and RCW 13.50.010". RCW 13.50.010 provides for access to juvenile court records and files under certain conditions, but requires that anonymity and confidentiality must be preserved. See RCW 13.50.010(8).

The Department argues RCW 13.34.110 and RCW 13.50 require appellate courts to seal files and close hearings in dependency cases. According to the Department, appellate court files must not be disclosed to the public because they contain documents such as the clerk's papers and report of proceedings, which are confidential juvenile court "records" under RCW 13.50.010(1)(d) and RCW 13.50.100. The Department argues RCW 13.34.110 reflects a public policy in favor of closed juvenile proceedings and asks the court to fashion a rule for limiting accessibility to the briefs or oral arguments in a dependency appeal where necessary to preserve the parties' confidentiality. In essence, the Department contends RCW 13.34.110 and RCW 13.50 require mandatory closure of all appellate dependency proceedings, including this appeal.

The P-I, J.B.S., and Teresa Scott (collectively the P-I) argue RCW 13.34.110 and RCW 13.50 apply only to superior court hearings and do not require appellate court proceedings to be closed to the press or public. The P-I claims the record and proceedings in this matter should be open because no motion has been brought under General Rule 15(c)(1)(B) to seal them.

If RCW 13.34.110 and RCW 13.50 do apply in appellate proceedings, the P-I argues these statutes are unconstitutional because they mandate automatic closure. According to the P-I, such mandatory closure provides no room for the kind of individualized determination of whether to close a proceeding as required by this court in Allied Daily Newspapers v. Eikenberry, 121 Wash.2d 205, 848 P.2d 1258 (1993) or Seattle Times Co. v. Ishikawa, 97 Wash.2d 30, 640 P.2d 716 (1982). Rather, the P-I contends J.B.S. has a constitutional right to an open public hearing on his appeal pursuant to Const. art. 1, § 10 and U.S. Const. amend. 1.

We find the P-I's first two arguments dispositive and need not reach the constitutional question. These statutes do not apply to appellate proceedings. RCW 13.34.110 applies to hearings on dependency petitions, which must be filed in superior court. See RCW 13.34.040. RCW 13.34.110 provides:

The court shall hold a fact-finding hearing on the petition....

All hearings may be conducted at any time or place within the limits of the county, and such cases may not be heard in conjunction with other business of any other division of the superior court. The general public shall be excluded, and only such persons may be admitted who are found by the judge to have a direct interest in the case or in the work of the court....

By its own terms, 13.34.110 applies only to juvenile or superior court hearings and does not apply to appellate court proceedings. Appellate courts are not included within the definition of "courts" under RCW Title 13: " 'Court' when used without further qualification means the juvenile court judge(s) or commissioner(s)." (Italics ours.) RCW 13.04.011(3). See also RCW 13.04.021(1) ("The juvenile court shall be a division of the superior court.").

The confidentiality requirement of RCW 13.50.100 governs only the handling of juvenile court files and records by juvenile justice or care agencies. "Juvenile justice or care agency" is defined to include "court", but again, that definition includes only the juvenile or superior court. The statutory definitions for records and files also refer only to the juvenile court and do not mention appellate records: " 'Records' means the official juvenile court file, the social file, and records of any other juvenile justice or care agency in the case". (Italics ours.) RCW 13.50.010(1)(d). RCW 13.50.010(1)(b) provides:

"Official juvenile court file" means the legal file of the juvenile court containing the petition or information, motions, memorandums, briefs, findings of the court, and court orders;

(Italics ours.)

RCW 13.50.100 does not make any express provisions for the transmission of juvenile court records to an appellate court. RCW 13.50.100(3) provides for the release of "records" to "other participants in the juvenile justice or care system", but that does not include appellate courts, which are excluded from the definition of "juvenile justice or care agency" in RCW 13.50.010(1)(a). Under the Department's strict reading of these statutes, even the juvenile court's transmission of its records to this court would violate the confidentiality requirement of RCW 13.50. These statutes simply do not address how to handle these records or proceedings on appeal.

The clerk's papers and record of proceedings below were sent to this court pursuant to another juvenile statute, RCW 13.04.033, and Title 9 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure. RCW 13.04.033(1) provides:

Any person aggrieved by a final order of the court may appeal the order as provided by this section. All appeals in matters other than those related to commission of a juvenile offense shall be taken in the same manner as in other civil cases.

(Italics ours.) RCW 13.04.033(1). GR 15(a), which applies to all ...

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    ...court records remain sealed and confidential on appeal, recognizing the abrogation of In re Dependency of J.B.S., 122 Wash.2d 131, 856 P.2d 694 (1993). Accordingly, we grant the joint motion to seal.FACTS AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE¶ 3 This matter involves two unrelated juveniles, E.H. and S.K.-......
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