State v. John Doe (In re I)

Citation495 P.3d 1016,169 Idaho 328
Decision Date27 September 2021
Docket NumberDocket No. 48735
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Parties In the MATTER OF: John DOE I, A Child Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age. State of Idaho, Department of Health and Welfare, Petitioner-Respondent, v. John Doe (2021-14), Respondent-Appellant.

Alex W. Brockman, Canyon County Public Defender's Office, Caldwell, for appellant, John Doe.

Teri Whilden, Deputy Idaho Attorney General, Caldwell, for respondent, State of Idaho.

STEGNER, Justice.

This case addresses the interaction between the Idaho Child Protective Act (CPA) and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), an issue of first impression for this Court. It involves a magistrate court's custody determination of an eight-year-old developmentally delayed and hearing-impaired child (Child) who was removed from his father's (Father) care by law enforcement on an emergency basis. Child was found home alone by representatives of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW or the Department). After a shelter care hearing, the magistrate court determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that Child fell within the jurisdiction of the CPA based on a lack of a stable home environment. See I.C. §§ 16-1601 –1647. Father objected to the magistrate court's exercise of jurisdiction, arguing that because Father had been granted joint custody of Child with Child's mother (Mother) by a California court, the UCCJEA applied, which required the magistrate court to consult with the California court that had previously entered the custody order before the magistrate court could proceed in Idaho. After contacting and communicating with the California judge's representative, the magistrate court conducted an adjudicatory hearing, ultimately vesting custody of Child with the Department. For the reasons set forth, we affirm the decision of the magistrate court.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On November 13, 2020, Caldwell police officers responded to Father's home to assist the Department in performing a welfare check. Father was not home at the time, but Child was home alone and eventually opened the door. Law enforcement and the Department's representatives observed that Child was dressed only in what appeared to be his father's underwear, which were obviously too large for him. The officers also observed a bruise on Child's arm approximately 1.5 inches in diameter. Child told one officer that his father was not home and that he did not know where Father was or when he would return.

The officers continued speaking with Child while attempting to locate Father. Child disclosed to the officers that Father would "punch[ Child] with a closed fist and middle finger knuckle extended." Child also disclosed that Father would "hit him in the body" using an extendable hose from a vacuum, and pinch Child on the bottom when he was in trouble. Officers were informed by IDHW on the scene that Father had withdrawn Child from school some time in September 2020, and that Child had developmental delays as well as a hearing impairment.

Based on Child's appearance and disclosures, coupled with Father's leaving Child alone in the home, the officers declared Child in imminent danger, which resulted in the Department's representatives taking Child into their custody. After about an hour on scene, as the officers were about to leave, Father returned home. An officer asked Father about Child's disclosures of potential abuse. Father responded that the bruise on Child's arm was probably the result of their "wrestling," but that it was not intentional. Father noted that Child is larger than the average eight-year-old and that they "play rough" and Father must "defend himself against [Child]."

On November 16, 2020, the State filed a Petition pursuant to the Child Protective Act, alleging that Child was without proper care by Father. On November 17, and continued on November 24, 2020, the magistrate court conducted a shelter care hearing.1 The magistrate court initially concluded that because Child was found living in Idaho, he was within the jurisdiction of the court. The magistrate court next found that there was "reasonable cause to believe that the child f[ell] within the jurisdiction of the Child Protection Act due to an unstable home environment."

The magistrate court initially scheduled an adjudicatory hearing for December 15, 2020. At this time, the magistrate court noted that a child custody order had previously been entered by a court in San Joaquin County, California. Child's Mother still resided in California and the custody order provided for joint custody between Father and Mother.2 Father objected to the magistrate court conducting an adjudicatory hearing, arguing that the magistrate court was not in compliance with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Father's counsel orally moved "the court [to] have the required UCCJEA conversation" with the presiding California judge regarding which court had jurisdiction:

Your Honor, since ... California has made an initial custody determination that has exercised jurisdiction and one of the parents resides in California, it's going to be our request that the court have the required UCCJEA conversation and provide us at least notice to when that's going to be, an opportunity to provide some evidence. But I can file a bench brief that outlines what the positions are prior to this court assuming full jurisdiction and adjudicating this child within—or making an adjudicatory determination over the child.

The magistrate court requested that Father file a formal motion with an accompanying brief so the issue could be addressed at the adjudicatory hearing which was scheduled to take place on January 11, 2021.3

At the subsequent adjudicatory hearing, Father's counsel again objected to the magistrate exercising jurisdiction over Child: "[Father] is objecting to this hearing happening at all without that conference first proceeding forward and without California authorizing jurisdiction." The magistrate court was unpersuaded by Father's request for additional compliance with the UCCJEA:

The [c]ourt does find that the Idaho Child Protection Act gives this [c]ourt exclusive and original jurisdiction over children who are found in the State of Idaho. ... [S]o I'm going to deny the motion on those grounds. It's clear from the Child Protection Statute that this is the case.
But out of an abundance of caution, I did contact the [c]ourt that entered the custody order in this matter out of San Joaquin County[, California]. And I was able to have e-mail correspondence with the presiding judge's secretary. And the presiding judge also agrees with this [c]ourt that jurisdiction is not an issue because Idaho's jurisdiction over this particular dependency case trumps any type of jurisdiction in the family law case. And so I'll just let the parties know of that. I have a copy of the e-mail if anybody wants to see it.

The communication referred to by the magistrate court consists of an email exchange between the Idaho magistrate court and a "Legal Process Clerk Supervisor" from the family law court in San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton, California. The Idaho magistrate court's email to the California clerk read:

I am the presiding judge over a child protection action here in Idaho over [Child.] ... [Father's] attorney is asserting a UCCJEA issue of jurisdiction due to the custody order in San Joaquin County. I am conferring/inquiring of the California court (pursuant to UCCJEA) whether the California Court wishes to assume jurisdiction over the dependency case here in Idaho due to the exercise of jurisdiction by California. If the judge has a moment to either email back or call my assistant to set up an informal phone call to discuss the issue, that would be much appreciated.

The San Joaquin County court clerk responded:

The presiding [family law] judge of our County will be returning next week and will call your Court to discuss. She also mentioned that juvenile court trumps family court so jurisdiction shouldn't be an issue. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

In further reply, the Idaho magistrate court stated:

I agree with the judge's assessment of jurisdiction here in Idaho over the dependency/child protection case. I was reaching out in an abundance of caution and at the request of defense counsel just to say we did. You can let the judge know that this email could count as our conference and I will leave it up to her if she still wishes to call. My position is that Idaho will hold onto any child protection action pending.

The California court did not respond to the Idaho magistrate court's e-mail.

The Idaho magistrate court then denied Father's motion, finding that "the Idaho Child Protection Act gives this court exclusive original jurisdiction over the minor child at issue in this matter because he is a child living in or found within the state." (Emphasis in original.)

The magistrate court then heard testimony from the Department's caseworkers, law enforcement officers, and Child's Mother at the adjudicatory hearing.4 At the close of evidence, the magistrate court made its findings: "[B]ased on the evidence that was presented to the [c]ourt, I do find that [Child] at this time by a preponderance of evidence is subject to an unstable home environment, and, therefore, he is within the jurisdiction of the Child Protection Act." The magistrate court based its decision primarily on Father's inability to meet Child's developmental, physical, and educational needs. The magistrate court next made the disposition finding:

I am making the finding that it is in the best interest of the child at least at this point in time for custody to vest with the Department of Health and Welfare, and it would be contrary to the welfare of the child to remain in the home. I also find that the department did make reasonable
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