S.F. Human Servs. Agency v. Felicia C. (In re M.C.), No. A129528.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtBRUINIERS
Citation199 Cal.App.4th 784,11 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 12494,131 Cal.Rptr.3d 194,2011 Daily Journal D.A.R. 14828
PartiesIn re M.C., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. San Francisco Human Services Agency, Appellant, v. Felicia C. et al., Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. A129528.
Decision Date29 September 2011

199 Cal.App.4th 784
131 Cal.Rptr.3d 194
11 Cal.
Daily Op. Serv. 12,494
2011 Daily Journal D.A.R. 14,828

In re M.C., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
San Francisco Human Services Agency, Appellant,
Felicia C. et al., Respondents.

No. A129528.

Court of Appeal, First District, Division 5, California.

Sept. 29, 2011.
Certified for Partial Publication.

[131 Cal.Rptr.3d 197]Dennis J. Herrera, City Attorney, Kimiko Burton, Lead City Attorney, and Jennifer K. Williams, Deputy City Attorney, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Jennifer B. Henning for California State Association of Counties as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Caroline J. Todd, Berkeley, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Respondent Felicia C.

Matthew I. Thue, Diamond Bar, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Respondent Juan E.

[131 Cal.Rptr.3d 198]Donna Furth, San Francisco, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Minor.

Martha Matthews, California, for Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, National Association of Counsel for Children, Northern California Association of Counsel for Children, National Center for Youth Law, Youth Law Center, East Bay Children's Law Offices, and Legal Advocates for Children & Youth as Amici Curiae on behalf of Minor, Defendants and Respondents.


[199 Cal.App.4th 789]

When he was 16 years old, M.C. ran away from his home in Guatemala where he lived with his mother, Felicia C. (mother), and his

[199 Cal.App.4th 790]

father, Juan E. (father). He came to San Francisco, where he was found begging for money on the street and was referred to a homeless shelter. The San Francisco Human Services Agency (Agency) investigated allegations of abuse and neglect to determine if M.C. was a dependent child, within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 300,1 and declined to file a dependency petition. Legal Services for Children (LSC), serving as counsel to M.C., challenged the Agency's decision not to initiate dependency proceedings by filing an application, pursuant to section 331, seeking juvenile court review. The juvenile court ordered the Agency to file a dependency petition and to take M.C. into protective custody. The juvenile court subsequently declared M.C. a dependent child ( § 300, subds.(b), (c), (g)).

In the published portion of our opinion, we address whether section 331 violates the doctrine of separation of powers, to the extent it authorizes the juvenile court to order the Agency to file a dependency petition. We hold that, under the authority of section 331, the juvenile court may order the Agency to file a dependency petition and that this authority does not violate the separation of powers doctrine. In the unpublished portion of our opinion, we reject the Agency's various challenges to the court's jurisdictional and dispositional findings and orders.

I. Statutory Background

Before addressing the facts unique to this case, we think it necessary to first discuss the governing statutes. The juvenile court system is a statutory creation. (See In re Ramon M. (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 665, 672, 101 Cal.Rptr.3d 158 [delinquency case].) “A ‘juvenile court’ is a superior court exercising limited jurisdiction arising under juvenile law. [Citation.] Dependency proceedings in the juvenile court are special proceedings with their own set of rules, governed, in general, by the Welfare and Institutions Code.” (In re Chantal S. (1996) 13 Cal.4th 196, 200, 51 Cal.Rptr.2d 866, 913 P.2d 1075.) “Under section 300, a child who is neglected or abused falls within the juvenile court's protective jurisdiction as a ‘dependent child of the court.’ Alternatively, the juvenile court may take jurisdiction over a minor as a ‘ward of the court’ when the child is habitually disobedient or truant (§ 601), or commits a crime (§ 602).” ( D.M. v. Superior Court (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 1117, 1123, 93 Cal.Rptr.3d 418.)

The dependency statutes provide different avenues for presenting a child's circumstances to the juvenile court. Juvenile dependency petitions are filed by

[199 Cal.App.4th 791]

social [131 Cal.Rptr.3d 199]workers. (§ 325.) 2 Thus, social workers are required to investigate suspected cases of child neglect and abuse and determine whether dependency proceedings should be commenced. (§ 328.) 3 If the social worker determines that a child is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, the social worker may decide that informal supervision is appropriate, in lieu of filing a dependency petition. (§ 301.) 4 If a child has been taken into custody and cannot be released to the custody of his or her parents, a social worker must immediately file a dependency petition with the juvenile court. (§§ 309, subd. (a), 311, subd. (a), 313, subd. (a).) 5

[131 Cal.Rptr.3d 200]The statutes also provide methods for private parties to bring a minor's case to the attention of a social worker and juvenile court. (§§ 329, 331.)

[199 Cal.App.4th 792]

Section 329 provides: “Whenever any person applies to the social worker to commence proceedings in the juvenile court, the application shall be in the form of an affidavit alleging that there was or is within the county, or residing therein, a child within the provisions of Section 300, and setting forth facts in support thereof. The social worker shall immediately investigate as he or she deems necessary to determine whether proceedings in the juvenile court should be commenced. If the social worker does not take action under Section 330 6 and does not file a petition in the juvenile court within three weeks after the application, he or she shall endorse upon the affidavit of the applicant his or her decision not to proceed further and his or her reasons therefore and shall immediately notify the applicant of the action taken or the decision rendered by him or her under this section. The social worker shall retain the affidavit and his or her endorsement thereon for a period of 30 days after notifying the applicant.”

Section 331 provides: “When any person has applied to the social worker, pursuant to Section 329, to commence juvenile court proceedings and the social worker fails to file a petition within three weeks after the application, the person may, within one month after making the application, apply to the juvenile court to review the decision of the social worker, and the court may either affirm the decision of the social worker or order him or her to commence juvenile court proceedings.”

It is the latter section we consider here.

II. Factual and Procedural Background7
Section 329 Application

On August 31, 2009, LSC submitted, to the Agency, an application to commence juvenile dependency proceedings by affidavit, pursuant to

[199 Cal.App.4th 793]

section 329. The application alleged that M.C. was currently homeless after coming to San Francisco, from Guatemala, to escape physical abuse by his father. M.C. had been referred to Huckleberry House for emergency shelter and then to Diamond Youth Shelter. The application also noted that both Huckleberry House and LSC had made hotline referrals to Child Protective Services (CPS).

The application further states: “The CPS investigation was closed August 26, 2009. It was explained to our office that the case was closed because [M.C.] was classified as a runaway. [¶] ... Diamond Youth Shelter is not an appropriate placement for this minor.... An emergency housing shelter is an insufficient solution to [M.C.]'s problem of homelessness due to abuse by his father. [¶] ... [M.C.] cannot return to his country of origin, Guatemala, as there is no one to care for him.”

[131 Cal.Rptr.3d 201]On September 15, 2009, Kristina Hermann, a social worker with the Agency, declined to commence juvenile court proceedings on behalf of M.C. Hermann endorsed the section 329 application and attached a statement of reasons for her decision. She stated that she met with M.C. on August 3, 2009, and concluded that the allegations of abuse and abandonment were unfounded. She explained: “[M.C.] stated that he is from a small town in Guatemala.... [M.C.] stated that he ‘chose to leave Guatemala in June 2009, in search of employment and educational opportunities.’ [M.C.] reported ... that his parents and his siblings do not know that he left home for the U.S. [¶] ... [M.C.] stated that his father has a history of drinking alcohol. He stated that in [his] country, ‘it is common for men to drink after work.’ ... [M.C.] stated that his parents were not emotionally or physically abusive to him. [M.C.] stated that his father hit him only once, ‘with an open hand to his face but it did not leave a bruise.’ [M.C.] stated that his father and mother were not abusive to him. [M.C.] did report that there have been occasions when [his] father engaged in a physical altercation with [his] mother. [M.C.] stated that he witnessed the altercations a few times.

“[M.C.] reported that the town that he is from has limited economic opportunity and that his family has always struggled to make a living. He reported that he has 10 other siblings who have remained in the town and have not left for the U.S. as he did. [M.C.] stated that he left school at age 9 to work in construction, something he said ‘is not that uncommon for guys where I'm from.’ [M.C.] reported that his parents do provide adequate provisions at home for him and his siblings.

“[M.C.] stated that in or around June of 2009, he was invited by an older coworker, ‘Felipe’ whom he worked with, to come to San Francisco, CA, to better his life. [M.C.] chose to leave Guatemala and his hometown despite the

[199 Cal.App.4th 794]

fact that he did not tell his parents that he was choosing to runaway to the U.S. [M.C.] reported that his parents still do not know that he left Guatemala for the U.S. He told [me] that there is no way of contacting them; neither by phone nor by mail....

“[M.C.] reported that the trip to the U.S. took about 2 and a half weeks ... and stated...

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