In re W.W., 1287, Sept. Term, 2020

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtEyler, James R., J.
Citation265 A.3d 1160,253 Md.App. 313
Parties IN RE: W.W.
Docket NumberNo. 1287, Sept. Term, 2020,No. 288, Sept. Term, 2021,1287, Sept. Term, 2020,288, Sept. Term, 2021
Decision Date16 December 2021

253 Md.App. 313
265 A.3d 1160


No. 1287, Sept. Term, 2020
No. 288, Sept.
Term, 2021

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

December 16, 2021

Submitted by: Maili Shaffer (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellant.

Submitted by: MaryKay Canarte, Assigned Public Defender of Rockville, MD., Leslie K. Ridgway (Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Baltimore, MD) all on the briefs, for Appellee.

Panel: Fader, C.J., Nazarian, James R. Eyler, (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.


Eyler, James R., J.

265 A.3d 1163

These consolidated appeals arise from decisions of the Circuit Court for Queen Anne's County, sitting as a juvenile court, addressing competing claims of paternity in a CINA1 proceeding involving the child, W.W. Ms. S.2 ("Mother") and Mr. W. are the appellants and the Queen Anne's County Department of Social Services (the "Department") and Mr. A. are the appellees.

Mother presents the following questions for our review which we have rephrased as follows:3

1. Did the circuit court err in determining that the best interests of W.W. required genetic testing of two possible fathers?

2. Did the circuit court err in determining that Mr. A. was the biological father of W.W.?

For the reasons set forth below, we shall affirm the judgments of the juvenile court.


W.W. was born in a motel room outside Chestertown, in April 2020, and transported to Easton Memorial Hospital, where he tested positive for opiates, fentanyl, cocaine, morphine, and benzoylecgonine. Mother tested positive for cocaine, heroin, and cannabinoid (marijuana). W.W. remained hospitalized for more than one month to receive treatment for significant drug-withdrawal symptoms.

At the time of W.W.'s conception and birth, Mother was married to Mr. S., who lived in Tennessee, and whom she had not seen in two years. At the time of W.W.'s conception, Mother had been in sexual relationships with two men: Mr. W. and Mr. A. At different times, Mother identified to the Department both Mr. A. and Mr. W. as W.W.'s father. In May of 2020, Mother, who was living in a hotel with Mr. W., sought to remove W.W. from the hospital and take him with her to Delaware to live with Mr. W., whom she referred to as "the dad". Because W.W. was being weaned from a morphine drip, he could not be discharged from the hospital. The court ordered that W.W. be sheltered by the Department upon discharge from the hospital. On May 29, 2020, the Department placed W.W. with the C. family.

The Department filed a CINA petition alleging that, because Mother was unable or unwilling to provide a safe, stable and drug-free home for W.W., and because the Department was unable to ascertain the identity of W.W.'s biological father, W.W. was a CINA. The Department requested that the court hold an adjudicatory and disposition hearing on the petition and order the alleged fathers to submit to paternity testing to determine the identity of W.W.'s biological father.

265 A.3d 1164

On August 27, 2020, following the adjudication hearing, the allegations in the CINA petition were sustained as to Mother only. The court found that: 1) Mother had given birth to W.W. in a motel room, where he was born drug-exposed to opiates and cocaine; 2) she had declined evaluation and treatment for substance abuse despite the Department's referrals to multiple treatment centers (including both inpatient and outpatient settings), and had refused the recommended level of treatment; 3) she had charges pending and faced a possible prison sentence; 4) she presented no evidence that she had the ability to provide a safe, stable, and drug-free home for W.W.; and 5) she was unable to identify any maternal family members as relative resources for W.W.

The court determined that W.W. had undergone drug-withdrawal treatment for thirty-three days and noted there was no "greater circumstance" of being placed at risk of substantial harm than being born drug-exposed. The court concluded that: 1) W.W. had been abused and neglected, 2) Mother was unable and unwilling to provide W.W. with proper care and attention, and 3) Mr. S., the presumptive father, was unwilling to be a resource for W.W. or provide him proper care and attention. Accordingly, W.W. was adjudicated CINA.

The court proceeded to the disposition phase of the hearing and considered the issue of paternity. The court noted that the Department had been unable to definitively determine the identity of W.W.'s biological father and therefore was unable to ascertain any paternal resources for W.W. Mr. S. denied paternity because he had not had physical relations with Mother in three years. Mr. A. believed that he was W.W.'s biological father. He stated that he had known Mother for approximately sixteen years and that he and Mother had a sexual relationship between May and November of 2019. He stated that Mother had informed him during her pregnancy that he was W.W.'s father and he had attended several prenatal appointments with Mother prior to their separation. He explained that he ended the relationship when he learned that Mother was seeing other people, including Mr. W.

According to Mr. A., he and Mother had discussed possible names and Mother had created a collage that included the name that they had chosen together. On the day that W.W. was born, Mother called Mr. A. to tell him that she was in labor. Mother also texted Mr. A. a photo of W.W. and acknowledged that Mr. A. was the father. Mr. A. went to the hospital and attempted unsuccessfully to see W.W. Mother asked Mr. A. to relinquish his paternal rights to W.W., but Mr. A. declined.

Mr. W. testified that he had known Mother since 2019 and their sexual relationship began in June of 2019. During his sexual relationship with Mother, Mr. W. was aware that she was also in a relationship with Mr. A. Mr. W. stated that he had told everyone he knows that he is W.W.'s father.

Mr. S. submitted to genetic testing and the results showed a 0.0% probability that he was W.W.'s father. Mother did not challenge the paternity results. Mr. S. was excused from the case without objection. Based upon testimony presented by Mr. W. and Mr. A., the magistrate determined that it was in W.W.'s best interests that Mr. W. and Mr. A. both submit to genetic testing to determine whether either of them could be ruled out as W.W.'s father. The court adopted the magistrate's recommendation and findings, concluding that it was in W.W.'s best interests. Mother and Mr. W. each noted an appeal from that

265 A.3d 1165

order.4 Mother did not challenge the court's CINA finding.

Genetic testing revealed that Mr. A. is W.W.'s biological father. The magistrate recommended that Mr. A. be declared W.W.'s father and that Mr. W. be removed from the case. At the exceptions hearing on April 8, 2021, Mother argued that it was in W.W.'s best interests for their "family unit" to remain intact and to have Mr. W. named as W.W.'s father and Mr. A. excluded as a party. The court denied Mother's exceptions and removed Mr. W. from the case. Mother and Mr. W. each noted an appeal.5


The Department moved to dismiss Mother's appeal from the order of January 14, 2021, arguing that the order was not a final order as to Mother. CJP § 12-303(3)(i) provides for an interlocutory appeal from an order granting an injunction "if the appellant has first filed an answer in the cause." The January 14, 2021 order is an injunctive order as to Mr. W. Although it is unclear what constitutes an "answer" within the meaning of the statute, Mr. W. was an active participant in "the cause." We conclude that Mr. W. had the right to appeal the interlocutory January 14, 2021 order. Therefore, we need not address the appealability of that order as to Mother.

Alternatively, the January 14, 2021 order is reviewable as to Mr. W. for the following reason. Because the subsequent order of April 8, 2021 disposed of all the claims involving Mr. W. and Mr. W. was removed from the case, the circuit court had discretion to expressly determine in a written order that there was no just reason for delay and direct the entry of a final judgment pursuant to Md. Rule 2-602(b). We see no just reason to delay a determination of the issue presented, and therefore, enter judgment on our own initiative. Md. Rule 8-602(g) ; see Kamin-A-Kalaw v. Dulic , 322 Md. 49, 54, 585 A.2d 216 (1991). Ordinarily, the entry of that judgment would not permit review of the prior January 14, 2021 interlocutory order, as it would not be a conventional final judgment. See Snowden v. Balt. Gas & Elec Co. 300 Md. 555, 559-60 n.2, 479 A.2d 1329 (1984) ; Md. Bd. of Physicians v. Geier , 225 Md. App. 114, 140-41, 123 A.3d 601 (2015). Here, however, because the previous interlocutory order "directly control[s] and [is] inextricably bound to the order that is treated as final for purposes of appeal," that prior ruling may be reviewed on appeal. See Davis v. Attorney General , 187 Md. App. 110, 122-23, 975 A.2d 362 (2009). Accordingly, we have jurisdiction to review the January 14, 2021 order as well as the April 8,...

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