Legal News Update

January 31, 2018

CLC’s Writ and Appeals team provides regular updates to CLC staff regarding the latest cases that have been decided by the appellate courts. To provide a bit of insight into the work that our dedicated attorneys do – and the issues they grapple with in court on a daily basis – below are summaries of two recent cases that go to the heart of our client-focused advocacy.

In the case of In re R.T., (2017) 3 Cal.5th 622, the California Supreme Court clarified the question of whether the dependency court can take jurisdiction without a finding that a parent was neglectful or blameworthy for the failure or inability to adequately supervise or protect his or her child. At age 14, R.T. began running away from home for days at a time and not attending school. Mother tried unsuc-cessfully to supervise and protect R.T., and sought support from the agency and law enforcement. Despite mother’s efforts, R.T.’s “incorri-gible behaviors” continued. When R.T. was 17 years old, the agency filed a petition alleging that R.T. was at substantial risk of physical harm due to mother’s failure or inability to adequately supervise or protect R.T. The juvenile court found the petition to be true, and the Court of Appeal affirmed that decision. The California Supreme Court noted that the requisite statute does not include words like “neglectful,” “blameworthy,” or “unfit” to characterize a parent’s conduct. The statute requires no more than a parent’s failure and inability to adequately supervise or protect the child. Therefore, when the child’s behavior places him or her at substantial risk of serious physical harm, and a parent is unable to protect or supervise that child, the court may take jurisdiction.

In re J.P., filed 8/17/17, addresses the reasonableness of court-ordered services. Father moved with his children from Myanmar, and spoke only Burmese and Karen. Soon after the agency became involved with the family, the agency began to report to the court that it was having difficulty locating services in the Burmese language. In particular, the language barrier prevented father from randomly testing for alcohol, because the telephone system used for testing notification required father to understand English. Despite being informed by the agency that it could not locate any programs for father in the Burmese language, the court ordered the recommended services, but ordered the Agency to assist the father with locating programs in Burmese or with appropriate translation. Father appealed the court’s orders. The Court of Appeal held that it is an abuse of discretion for a court to order services with the knowledge that the parent cannot participate in the ordered services. The court’s orders must be reasonable and designed to eliminate the conditions that led to removal of the children. The reunification plan must be appropriate for each individual family and based on the unique facts relating to that family. Therefore, the Court concluded that it is unreasonable to order a parent to engage in services that he cannot access.