In re K.T., 080817 UTSC, 20160410

Court:Supreme Court of Utah
Attorney:Sheleigh A. Harding, Salt Lake City, for appellant B.T. Jordan Putnam, Cottonwood Heights, for appellant S.T. Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Carol L.C. Verdoia, John M. Peterson, Asst. Att'y Gens., Salt Lake City, for appellee. Martha Pierce, Salt Lake City, for Office of Guardian ad Litem.
Judge Panel:Justice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Durham, and Justice Himonas joined.
Opinion Judge:PEARCE JUSTICE.
Party Name:In the interest of K.T., C.T., Ka.T., and Ca.T., children under eighteen years of age. v. State of Utah, Appellee. B.T. and S.T., Appellants,
Case Date:August 08, 2017
Docket Nº:20160410, 20160386
 
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2017 UT 44

In the interest of K.T., C.T., Ka.T., and Ca.T., children under eighteen years of age.

B.T. and S.T., Appellants,

v.

State of Utah, Appellee.

Nos. 20160410, 20160386

Supreme Court of Utah

August 8, 2017

         On Certification from the Court of Appeals

         Third District Juvenile, Salt Lake The Honorable Charles D. Behrens Nos. 1125972, 1125975, 11255977, 1125980

          Sheleigh A. Harding, Salt Lake City, for appellant B.T. Jordan Putnam, Cottonwood Heights, for appellant S.T.

          Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Carol L.C. Verdoia, John M. Peterson, Asst. Att'y Gens., Salt Lake City, for appellee.

          Martha Pierce, Salt Lake City, for Office of Guardian ad Litem.

          Justice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Durham, and Justice Himonas joined.

          OPINION

          PEARCE JUSTICE.

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶1 At the disposition hearing in their child welfare case, appellant parents stipulated to a set of facts, including a statement that one of the family's children had "disclosed that [the mother] has spanked and disciplined her and her siblings with a belt." Appellants also stipulated that the same child had disclosed that the father "has spanked the children with a belt historically." The parents contend that this was an insufficient factual basis to permit the juvenile court to conclude that they had harmed the children within the meaning of the Utah Code. We agree that the juvenile court needed additional evidence before it could conclude by clear and convincing evidence that the children had been harmed. We reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 This case involves four children-K.T., C.T., Ka.T., and Ca.T. Appellant S.T. (Mother) is the mother of all four children. Appellant B.T. (Father) is the biological father of the younger two-Ka.T. and Ca.T. Father is the stepfather of the oldest two-K.T. and C.T.

         ¶3 The State filed a Verified Petition in February 2016 seeking to adjudicate the children as abused and neglected under Utah Code section 78A-6-105 (2008).1 Following a preliminary shelter hearing, the juvenile court placed K.T., C.T., Ka.T., and Ca.T. into the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS).

         ¶4 The parties stipulated to a number of findings of fact. One stipulated finding indicated that "[K.T.] also disclosed [Mother] has spanked and disciplined her and her siblings with a belt. The mother uses a black belt with rhinestones. [Father] has spanked the children with a belt historically."[2]

         ¶5 Based on the stipulated findings of fact, the judge concluded: 1. Hitting a child with a belt or strap or another object is abuse.

2. The pain caused by the striking is non-accidental harm.

3. The court cannot envision a scenario where striking or hitting a child, of any age, would be appropriate or reasonable discipline.

4. The court can envision a parent, as a child, being hit with a belt or strap as discipline at that time, in that day and age, many years ago that type of discipline was deemed appropriate and perfectly reasonable.

5. As a society we've progressed to the point where it's not acceptable to strike a child and certainly to strike a child, of any age, with an object, a belt, a strap, or a paddle or...

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