In re Y.W.-B., 1 EAP 2021

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Decision Date23 December 2021
Docket Number1 EAP 2021,2 EAP 2021,J-39A&B-2021


Nos. 1 EAP 2021, 2 EAP 2021

No. J-39A&B-2021

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

December 23, 2021

ARGUED: May 19, 2021

Appeal from the Order of Superior Court entered on October 8, 2020 at Nos. 1642 EDA 2019, 1643 EDA 2019 affirming and reversing the Order entered on June 11, 2019 in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Family Division at Nos. CP-51-DP-0002108-2013, CP-51-DP-0002387-2016




A report from an unidentified source provided the sole basis for an allegation that Mother (J.B.) was homeless and had failed to feed one of her children during a single eight-hour period and led to the issuance of an order compelling her to allow the


Philadelphia Department of Human Services ("DHS") to enter and inspect the family residence. Before the Court is the question of whether DHS established sufficient probable cause for the trial court to issue the order permitting entry into the home without consent. We conclude that DHS did not establish probable cause and thus reverse the order of the Superior Court.

I. Factual and Procedural History

Mother, who is politically active, lives with her two young children ("Y.W.-B" and "N.W.-B") and the children's father ("Father") in Philadelphia. On May 22, 2019, DHS allegedly received a general protective services report ("GPS report") from an unidentified source alleging possible neglect by Mother. Although DHS referenced this GPS report several times at the evidentiary hearing and used it to refresh its sole witness's recollection, it inexplicably never introduced it into evidence. The only information of record regarding the contents of the GPS report are set forth in the "Petitions to Compel Cooperation" (the "Petitions to Compel") subsequently filed by DHS. In paragraph "J" of the Petitions to Compel, DHS summarized the relevant allegations in the GPS report against Mother as follows:

J. On May 22, 2019, DHS received a GPS report alleging that three weeks earlier, the family had been observed sleeping outside of a Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) office located at 2103 Ridge Avenue; that on May 21, 2019, [Mother] had been observed outside of the PHA office from 12:00 P.M until 8:00 P.M. with one of the children in her care; that Project Home dispatched an outreach worker to assess the family; that [Mother] stated that she was not homeless and that her previous residence had burned down; and that it was unknown if [Mother] was feeding the children
[sic] she stood outside of the PHA office for extended periods of time.[1] This report is pending determination

Petitions to Compel, 5/31/2019, ¶ J.

In summary, and as set forth in paragraph "J," two allegations were made in the report: first, around three weeks prior to May 21, 2019 (or on approximately May 1, 2019), the unidentified reporter claimed to have observed Mother's family sleeping outside of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Project Home pursued this allegation with Mother, who denied the family was homeless. Second, on May 21, 2019, the unidentified source apparently indicated that he or she had also observed Mother, with one of her children, protesting outside of the office of the Philadelphia Housing Authority from noon until eight in the evening, and that it was "unknown" if Mother had fed the child during that eight-hour time period. Mother does not challenge that these were the claims of possible neglect in the GPS report, and we thus rely on the allegations in paragraph J in our analysis and disposition.

The same source provided DHS with the address of the family home. Project Home, a Philadelphia organization that attempts to alleviate homelessness, dispatched a worker on May 22, 2019 to approach Mother.[2] In response to the Project Home


worker's questions, Mother stated that she was at the Philadelphia Housing Authority to protest and that she was not homeless, although she indicated that a previous home had been involved in a fire.

Later that same day, Tamisha Richardson, a DHS caseworker, verified the address of the family's home via a search of the Department of Welfare's records. When she arrived at this address later in the day after the Project Home worker's visit, she encountered Father, who denied Richardson entry into the residence and called Mother, who then spoke with her over the phone. Trial Court Opinion, 9/9/2019, at 6-7. Mother reiterated that she was protesting at the Philadelphia Housing Authority on May 21st and denied that she had either of the children with her on that date. Shortly thereafter, Mother arrived at the family home with the children and ushered them into the house. Mother informed Richardson that she would not allow her into the home absent a court order. Id. Richardson left but returned later the same day accompanied by police officers, again seeking entry into the home. Mother and Father continued to refuse entry. Id.

On May 31, 2019, without conducting any additional investigation or making any effort to corroborate the allegations of the unidentified author of the GPS report, DHS filed two Petitions to Compel the parents' cooperation with an in-home visit, one for each of the children. In the Petitions to Compel, DHS set forth the events of May 22, 2019 and detailed the family's prior involvement with DHS, which consisted of a dependency matter that began in 2013 when DHS received a GPS report indicating that


the family home "was in deplorable condition; that there were holes in the walls; that the home was infested with fleas; that the home lacked numerous interior walls; that the interior structure of the home was exposed; that the home lacked hot water service and heat; and that the home appeared to be structurally unsound." Petitions to Compel, 5/31/2019, ¶ C. On October 29, 2013, Y.W.-B was adjudicated dependent and committed to DHS[3] until July 20, 2015, at which time DHS transferred legal and physical custody back to Mother and Father. Id. ¶¶ E-F. The family received in-home services through local community agencies and treatment centers through November 10, 2015, at which time DHS ceased its protective supervision of Y.W.-B and discharged the dependency matter.[4] Id. ¶¶ H-I.

On June 11, 2019, the trial court held a hearing on the Petitions to Compel, at which Mother and Father appeared with counsel. DHS called Richardson as its single witness. Richardson testified to the events of May 22nd and explained that because of the allegations in the GPS report, she was required to assess the inside of the home to complete her investigation. N.T., 6/11/2019, at 11. She did not state or offer any evidence to support any belief that the conditions inside the home were deficient in any respect (as had been the case in 2013). The trial court then questioned Mother from the bench as to the status of her housing, the operability of her utilities, her employment status and whether the children were up-to-date with their medical and dental exams.


Mother responded by verifying her address and affirming that the utilities were functioning in her home, that she was employed, and that the children were current with their medical and dental exams. Id. at 12-14. During this inquiry, Mother asked the presiding judge why he was asking these questions of her and voiced her opinion that his inquiries did not relate to the allegations in the GPS report. See id. at 13, 19.

Mother also stated her view that the GPS report was made in retaliation for her protests of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Id. at 15. She insisted that this was the third time[5] that DHS had "com[e] after me. Every time the reports were proven to be false. This is retaliation. I'm in the news. I'm engaging in an ongoing protest at the [Philadelphia Housing Authority] headquarters and I'm being retaliated against." Id.

After the close of testimony, the trial court stated that the probable cause requirement had been met and that it was going to grant the Petitions to Compel. Id. at 18. In this regard, the trial court stated that "[i]f there's a report, that's their duty to investigate. You don't cooperate then I have to force you to cooperate." Id. at 16. The order stated in full:

AND NOW, this 11th day of June 2019, after conducting a Motion to Compel Cooperation Hearing the court enters the following order: Motion to Compel is Granted.
Further Findings: Child resides with mother and father.
Further Order: Mother is to allow two DHS social workers in the home to assess the home to verify if mother's home is safe and appropriate on Friday, June 14, 2019 at 5:00pm. Ms. Allison McDowell is to be present in mother's home as a witness to the home assessment. Mother is NOT to record or video, nor post on social media. Mother is to remove current videos regarding DHS works from social media. Parents or third parties are NOT to intimidate, harass or threaten any social workers.

Petitions to Compel Cooperation Order, 6/11/2019.[6] In its order, the trial court continued the evidentiary hearing until June 18, 2019.

Mother immediately filed a motion to stay the home inspection pending the resolution of her appeal. The trial court denied Mother's motion for a stay and the inspection occurred on June 14, 2019. When the hearing reconvened on June 18, 2019, one of the DHS caseworkers who performed the inspection testified that although Mother and Father did not permit the caseworkers to have access to the basement or the living room (which was under renovation), the rest of the home, which they did inspect, was safe and suitable for the children. N.T., 6/18/2019, at 12-13, 18. The trial court then dismissed the motion to compel. Id. at 20.

Mother filed a timely notice of...

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