In re D.J., 031319 MDSCA, 2146-2018

Docket Nº:2146-2018
Opinion Judge:NAZARIAN, J.
Party Name:IN RE: D.J.
Judge Panel:Nazarian, Arthur, Thieme, Raymond G., Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.
Case Date:March 13, 2019
Court:Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
 
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IN RE: D.J.

No. 2146-2018

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 13, 2019

Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 818099002

Nazarian, Arthur, Thieme, Raymond G., Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION [*]

NAZARIAN, J.

In April 2018, after I.H. ("Mother") assaulted her 14-year-old son, D.J., at his school (Mother later was arrested and incarcerated), the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, sitting as a juvenile court, granted the Baltimore City Department of Social Services' ("Department") petition for emergency shelter and placed D with a maternal aunt. After an adjudicatory hearing and a disposition hearing, the magistrate recommended that D be found a child in need of assistance ("CINA") and that the aunt be granted limited guardianship. Mother filed exceptions, and after a de novo hearing, the juvenile court affirmed the magistrate's recommendation. Mother appeals and, after reviewing the hearing transcripts, the written orders, and the record as a whole, we affirm.

I.

BACKGROUND

On April 6, 2018, a social worker at D's school saw Mother come into the school, whip him with her belt, and choke him in the hallway. The magistrate's findings of fact, 1 which Mother doesn't dispute and the juvenile court affirmed, recount the assault in detail: The following facts are sustained based on the testimony of [] the witness for BCDSS. On 4/6/2018, [the witness] was employed as the school social worker at [D's school] in Baltimore City. On that day as she was walking down the steps from the third floor she saw [Mother] [] take off her belt and begin to spank [D] with it. She was about three feet away. [The witness] testified that she froze and didn't know what to do so she went back up the stairs. A few minutes later she was walking down the hallway with the Assistant Principal and another staff person when she heard yelling. She saw [Mother], now in the third floor hallway, with her hands around [D]'s neck. A student came out of a classroom and pulled [D] back. [The witness] then saw [Mother] take off her jacket and "square up" on him. [The witness] pulled [D] away and behind her, and [Mother] then came at her. She said to [Mother] "That's enough. He already has a knot on his head." [Mother] said to her "F--- that. I don't give a f---. Let my son go." Another staff person took [D] into the Teacher Planning Room. [Mother] then put her belt back on, got her daughter from a classroom, went down to the office and fussed and finally left the building. [The witness] called CPS and School Police as she is required to do and then accompanied [D] to the hospital. [D] was tearful throughout the incident and at the hospital.

Three days later, the Department filed a CINA petition and requested shelter care for D. A hearing was held the same day, and the magistrate denied shelter care, but ordered Mother to arrange for D to live with a maternal aunt, Y.W.

D filed a motion for review of the shelter care decision, asserting that Mother had been "immediately arrested" after the shelter care hearing on charges arising from the school assault. On April 24, 2018, the magistrate held a review hearing, and the parties agreed to ask the court to order shelter care with placement in the home of a different maternal aunt, T.B. ("Ms. B"). The court entered an order to that effect.

On May 24, 2018, the court held an adjudicatory hearing2 before a magistrate. Ms. Haynes, the school social worker, testified and described the April 6 incident. After sustaining the Department's factual allegations, the magistrate ruled orally that shelter care and the limited guardianship to Ms. B would continue. The magistrate also decided, in response to D's counsel's request for more time to consult with D and prepare, that there was good cause to bifurcate the proceedings and consider the disposition of D's CINA status separately.

On June 28, 2018, a disposition hearing3 was held, again before the magistrate. The Department's caseworker, Chiquita Polk, and D's aunt, Ms. B, both testified. At the conclusion of the hearing, the magistrate found D to be a CINA and committed him to the Department for relative placement with Ms. B. On July 2, 2018, Mother filed a notice of exception and requested a de novo hearing.[4]

On July 31, 2018, a hearing was held before the juvenile court at which Ms. Polk and Ms. B testified again on behalf of the Department. Mother's brother, J.W., testified on Mother's behalf. The court also admitted evidence of Mother's completion of a parenting class. After hearing closing arguments, the court affirmed the magistrate's recommendations finding D a CINA and committing him to the Department and to relative care with Ms. B.

Additional facts will be supplied as necessary below.

II.

DISCUSSION

Mother raises three questions that we have reordered and rephrased: Did the circuit court err in (1) finding D.J. a CINA; (2) denying Mother's request to call D.J. as a witness; or (3) expressing views about the disposition of the case before hearing closing arguments?5

In child custody disputes, we apply three different but interrelated standards of review. First, when "the appellate court scrutinizes factual findings, the clearly erroneous standard applies." In re Adoption of Cadence B., 417 Md. 146, 155 (2010) (quoting In re Yve S., 373 Md. 551 (2003)) (cleaned up). Second, if the trial court "erred as to matters of law, further proceedings in the trial court will ordinarily be required unless the error is determined to be harmless." Id. Third, when the ultimate conclusion of the trial court is "founded upon sound legal principles and based upon factual findings that are not clearly erroneous, the [court's] decision should be disturbed only if there has been a clear abuse of discretion." Id. An abuse of discretion occurs when "no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court" or when the court acts "without reference to any guiding rules or principles." In re Yve S., 373 Md. at 583 (cleaned up).

A.

The Circuit Court Did Not Err In Finding D A CINA

Maryland Code (1973, 2013 Repl. Vol., 2018 Cum. Supp.) § 3-801(f) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJ") defines a "child in need of assistance" as: a child who requires court intervention because:

(1) The child has been abused, has been neglected, has a developmental disability, or has a mental disorder; and

(2)The child's parents, guardian, or custodian are unable or unwilling to give proper care and attention to the child and the child's needs.

The Department bears the burden of proving these elements by a preponderance of the evidence. CJ § 3-817(c). In this case, the juvenile court found that Mother's abuse of D and her inability and unwillingness to create a safe environment for her son satisfied both elements. Mother does not challenge the finding...

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