San Diego Cnty. Health & Human Servs. Agency v. Charlotte A. (In re Joshua A.), D067498

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtNARES, Acting P.J.
Citation190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655,239 Cal.App.4th 208
PartiesIN RE JOSHUA A., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Charlotte A., Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date17 July 2015
Docket NumberD067498

239 Cal.App.4th 208
190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655

IN RE JOSHUA A., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.

San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, Plaintiff and Respondent
v.
Charlotte A., Defendant and Appellant.

D067498

Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1, California.

Filed July 17, 2015


Christopher R. Booth, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Thomas E. Montgomery, County Counsel, John E. Philips, Chief Deputy County Counsel, and Jennifer Stone, Deputy

190 Cal.Rptr.3d 657

County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

NARES, Acting P.J.

239 Cal.App.4th 211

Charlotte A. challenges the finding that her boyfriend, Luis O., did not qualify as a nonrelative extended family member (NREFM) for placement of her son Joshua A. She contends the juvenile court erred as a matter of law when it ruled a parent is not a relative within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.3, subdivision (c)(2)1 for purposes of determining NREFM status. Charlotte also argues the juvenile court erred when it did not order the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (Agency) to evaluate Luis's home as a placement option for Joshua.

The Agency agrees the juvenile court misinterpreted section 362.7 when it ruled Luis was not an NREFM. The Agency contends the error was harmless because the juvenile court found it was not in Joshua's best interests to be placed with Luis, which would have disqualified the placement had the court correctly determined Luis's NREFM status.

We conclude the juvenile court erred as a matter of law when it ruled a parent is not a relative within the meaning of section 361.3, subdivision (c)(2) for purposes of determining NREFM status within the meaning of section 362.7. The statutory scheme clearly allows a person who has an established familial relationship with a parent of the dependent child to qualify as an NREFM. However, the court did not abuse its discretion when it determined placement with Luis was not in Joshua's best interests. Because placement was not in Joshua's best interests notwithstanding Luis's status as an NREFM, the court was not required to direct the Agency to complete its evaluation of his home. We affirm the order.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Joshua is the 13-year-old son of Charlotte. In October 2014, Joshua was removed from his mother's care after she became intoxicated and scratched and pinched him. Police officers observed that Charlotte was “delirious” and “obviously intoxicated.” Charlotte denied she had a drinking problem.

The Agency filed a section 300 petition on Joshua's behalf. In its court report, the Agency detailed seven earlier referrals to child protective services concerning Joshua's safety, and Joshua's prior adjudication as a juvenile court dependent. All those referrals, as well as the previous dependency, resulted from Charlotte's drinking. In 2011, Charlotte was arrested for driving under the influence with Joshua in the car. In 2012, Joshua found Charlotte

239 Cal.App.4th 212

unresponsive. She was hospitalized with a blood-alcohol level of 0.233. In 2013, Joshua was afraid to return home. Charlotte could be physically abusive when intoxicated. Joshua was declared a dependent of the juvenile court. He remained with his mother under a plan of family maintenance services. Charlotte completed services and the juvenile court terminated jurisdiction six months later.

When the current dependency proceeding was initiated, the social worker asked Charlotte for placement options for Joshua.2 Charlotte identified her boyfriend

190 Cal.Rptr.3d 658

Luis. Luis did not have any criminal or child protective history. Charlotte brought Luis with her to visit Joshua after he was detained. Joshua was happy to see his mother but was uncomfortable with Luis. He asked the social worker if Luis was allowed to yell at him. Charlotte told Joshua she could visit him another time. Joshua chose to end the visit early. Joshua told the social worker he wanted some time away from his mother and hoped she would obtain treatment so she would not drink. He did not want to live with Luis. Joshua said Luis was very strict and had called him “stupid.”

At the contested disposition hearing, the social worker testified the Agency had completed Luis's initial background checks and social interview, and concluded it was not in Joshua's best interests to be placed with Luis. When the social worker tried to discuss placement, Joshua said he was uncomfortable with Luis and did not want to be alone with him in a home. The Agency did not recommend the placement because Charlotte and Luis's relationship was of relatively short duration, Luis did not realize Charlotte had a drinking problem, and Joshua was not comfortable with Luis and did not want to live with him. The social worker said she was concerned that Luis's relationship with Charlotte was not stable and Luis would not be committed to Joshua were he not with Charlotte. Charlotte informed a police officer that problems in her relationship with Luis had led to her drinking. Luis did not contact the social worker to inquire about Joshua's well-being or to request visits. The social worker said the Agency did not complete an assessment of Luis's home because it did not intend to place Joshua with him.

Luis testified he and Charlotte had been dating for approximately a year and a half. He stayed with her in her home one or two nights a week. They were still dating. However, their relationship was “on hold” to allow each of them to work through personal issues. Luis said he could assure Charlotte did not drink when Joshua was present. He would follow court orders, cooperate with the Agency and report any lapses in Charlotte's behavior. Luis said his and Joshua's relationship was “good for the most part” and described the activities and experiences they shared, including playing Frisbee and catch, and swimming and hiking. If he could, he helped Joshua with his homework.

239 Cal.App.4th 213

Joshua was a “very, very good kid” but acted defiantly toward his mother. Luis denied calling Joshua “stupid.” He said he did not talk that way to children. Luis did not understand why Joshua would not want to live with him. He had the means to support Joshua and could provide a stable residence for him, as well as adult guidance.

Luis said he had not been aware of Charlotte's alcoholism but now realized the extent of her problem. He acknowledged drinking with her. Charlotte became a little tipsy on occasion but he did not recall her being drunk. Her drinking was typical for anyone who drank. He did not believe Charlotte was a danger to Joshua. Luis acknowledged telling the social worker he could not provide a long-term placement for Joshua. He had changed his mind and was willing to have Joshua live with him long-term if necessary. Luis said it was “more [Charlotte's] idea” to have Joshua live with him.

The juvenile court asked the parties whether a parent was included in the definition of a relative under section 361.3, subdivision (c)(2). County counsel and mother's attorney said it did. Minor's counsel argued the Legislature did not intend to include a parent in the definition of a relative under section 361.3, subdivision (c)(2), pointing out other statutes in

190 Cal.Rptr.3d 659

the dependency code distinguish between a parent and a relative.

The juvenile court found that under a strict interpretation of section 361.3, subdivision (c)(2), Luis did not meet the description of an NREFM because the term “parent” was not included in the definition of a relative. Further, Luis was not entitled to NREFM status because he did not have a familial or mentoring relationship with Joshua. Joshua had a negative reaction to Luis. Placing a teenager in a home in which he was uncomfortable could be destabilizing. The court was not willing to conduct “a grand experiment” at the risk of having to find multiple placements for Joshua. The court also questioned Luis's ability to recognize Charlotte's alcoholism and protect Joshua. Even if Luis qualified as an NREFM, the court would not place Joshua with Luis.

DISCUSSION

A

Applicable Law and Issues Raised

Where, as here, a child has been removed from a parent's care under section 361, and the child is not placed with a noncustodial parent or relative, the social worker may place the child in the approved home of an NREFM. (

239 Cal.App.4th 214

Samantha T. v. Superior Court (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 94, 108, 128 Cal.Rptr.3d 522 (Samantha T . ); In re R.T . (2015) 232 Cal.App.4th 1284, 1298–1299, 182 Cal.Rptr.3d 338.) Section 362.7 defines an NREFM as “an adult caregiver who has an established familial relationship with a relative of the child, as defined in [section 361.3, subdivision (c)(2) ], or a familial or mentoring relationship with the child.” A relative is “an adult who is related to the child by blood, adoption,...

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21 practice notes
  • John O. v. Scott R. (In re A.B.), D069257
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 24, 2016
    ...the words of the statute and, if the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, its plain meaning governs. (In re Joshua A. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 208, 214, 190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655.) A court may not interpret a statute to reflect an intention that does not appear from its plain language (In r......
  • San Bernardino Cnty. Children & Family Servs. v. Kimberly L. (In re Albert A.), E063869
    • United States
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    • January 14, 2016
    ...look to the words of the rule to ascertain the intent of the drafters and give effect to their plain meaning.4 (In re Joshua A. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 208, 214–215, 190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655.) If the language of the rule is clear and unambiguous, we must presume the drafters meant what they said ......
  • Santa Clara Cnty. Dep't of Family v. M.D. (In re J.P.), H046491
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 26, 2019
    ...‘ " ‘maximize a child's opportunity to develop into a stable, well-adjusted adult.’ " ’ " ( In re Joshua A. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 208, 218, 190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655.) "The best interest of the child is the fundamental goal of the juvenile dependency system ...." ( In re......
  • Santa Clara Cnty. Dep't of Family & Children's Servs. v. M.D. (In re J.P.), H047586
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 1, 2020
    ...‘ " ‘maximize a child's opportunity to develop into a stable, well-adjusted adult.’ " ’ " ( In re Joshua A. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 208, 218, 190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655.) "The best interest of the child is the fundamental goal of the juvenile dependency system ...." ( In re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • John O. v. Scott R. (In re A.B.), D069257
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 24, 2016
    ...the words of the statute and, if the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, its plain meaning governs. (In re Joshua A. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 208, 214, 190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655.) A court may not interpret a statute to reflect an intention that does not appear from its plain language (In r......
  • San Bernardino Cnty. Children & Family Servs. v. Kimberly L. (In re Albert A.), E063869
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 14, 2016
    ...look to the words of the rule to ascertain the intent of the drafters and give effect to their plain meaning.4 (In re Joshua A. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 208, 214–215, 190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655.) If the language of the rule is clear and unambiguous, we must presume the drafters meant what they said ......
  • Santa Clara Cnty. Dep't of Family v. M.D. (In re J.P.), H046491
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 26, 2019
    ...‘ " ‘maximize a child's opportunity to develop into a stable, well-adjusted adult.’ " ’ " ( In re Joshua A. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 208, 218, 190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655.) "The best interest of the child is the fundamental goal of the juvenile dependency system ...." ( In re......
  • Santa Clara Cnty. Dep't of Family & Children's Servs. v. M.D. (In re J.P.), H047586
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 1, 2020
    ...‘ " ‘maximize a child's opportunity to develop into a stable, well-adjusted adult.’ " ’ " ( In re Joshua A. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 208, 218, 190 Cal.Rptr.3d 655.) "The best interest of the child is the fundamental goal of the juvenile dependency system ...." ( In re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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