2003 Case Law
CHILDREN & YOUTH CASE LAW UPDATE
COMMONWEALTH COURT 2003
1. R.P. v. Department of Public Welfare, 820 A.2d 882 (Pa.Cmwlth. April 9, 2003).
2. PNC Bank Corporation v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, 831 A.2d 1269 (Pa. Cmwlth. September 17, 2003).
This case prospectively abolished common law marriage in Pennsylvania.
3. A.O. v. Department of Public Welfare, --- A.2d ---, 2003 WL 22948539 (Pa. Cmwlth., Dec 16, 2003)
Commonwealth Court affirmed DPW's denial of appeal of the from an indicated finding of child abuse. Hearsay statement of four (4) year-old victim child, presented via child's mother, caseworker and law enforcement official was admissible, where child was declared incompetent to testify. Statements were held to be sufficiently reliable to support a factual finding of child abuse because they were corroborated by victim's seven (7) year-old brother and by medical evidence.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA 2003
1. In Re: Adoption of S.M., Appeal of: D. S., 816 A.2d 1117, 2003 PA Super 35 (Pa. Super., January 27, 2003)
The Superior Court reversed this case holding that the Trail Court's determination was not based upon clear and convincing evidence. The Court held that this case should be reversed based upon the fact that it would not be in the child's best interest to terminate parental rights due to the fact that the parental/child bond remained significantly intact.
2. In Re: J.T. and R..T., Appeal of: J. L., 817 A.2d 505, 2003 PA Super 50 (Pa.Super., February 6, 2003)
The Superior Court affirmed the involuntary termination for parental rights in this case. The Court held that although mother had made significant efforts towards correction of the unsanitary conditions of the home that precipitated the placement of the subject children, termination was appropriate based upon the psychologist's evaluation that the mother lacked appropriate parenting skills and did not have the ability to supervise or care for the children properly. The Court went on to hold that the mother was incapable of parenting without continued intensive involvement by CYS and other agencies, and therefore, termination was in the best interest of the children.
3. In Re: N.B., Appeal of: P.B., 817 A.2d 530, 2003 PA Super 48 (Pa.Super., February 7, 2003)
The Superior Court quashed the appeal in this case where the Trial Court prohibited Community Legal Services' counsel from entering her appearance. Prior to the parents' request for representation by the Community Legal Services' attorney, the Court had appointed counsel for both mother and father. The Trial Court held that there was not a conflict of interest in representing both mother and father in this case. The Superior Court quashed the appeal due to the fact that it was not a Final Order, and therefore, not ripe for appeal.
4. In the Interest of M. B. and J.B., Appeal of: PG Publishing Company, 819 A.2d 59, 31 Media L. Rep. 2326, 2003 PA Super 76 (Pa.Super., Feb 26, 2003)
This is a case of first impression of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania determining whether or not juvenile dependency proceedings should be open to the public. The Court held that there was a rebuttable constitutional presumption that juvenile dependency proceedings are open to the public, however, the Courts possess an inherent power to control the access to their proceedings and may deny access where appropriate. A party seeking to keep the proceedings closed may rebut the presumption of openness by demonstrating that:
(1) Closure serves a compelling governmental interest, and
(2) No less restrictive means to serve that interest exists.
It is noteworthy that the entire opinion of this case is devoid of reference to the juvenile act.
5. In Re: L.D.F., Appeal of: L.D.F., 820 A.2d 714, 2003 PA Super 103 (March 18, 2003; Revised April 2, 2003).
This is a case of first impression where the Superior Court reversed the trail court order denying a minor child's request to be sufficiently mature to give informed consent to an abortion under the Abortion Control Act, 18 Pa.C.S.A §§3201-20. The Abortion Control Act provides that in the event the parent refuses to give consent or the minor elects not to seek parental consent to seek an abortion, the minor may file a petition to the Court of Common Pleas requesting that the court deem her "mature and capable of giving informed consent." §3206(c). The Superior Court found that the single reason relied on by the trial court to deny the minor's petition was the fact that the minor was twenty (20) weeks pregnant. The Superior Court reversed the trail court and permitted the abortion to continue.
6. In Re: J.A.S., Appeal of: Allegheny, Children, Youth and Families., 820 A.2d 774, 2003 PA Super 112 (Pa. Super., Mar 24, 2003).
This is an appeal from a denial of an involuntary termination of parental rights hearing. The Superior Court reversed and issued a Decree directing the trail court to terminate the parental rights of the subject parents. The court based this determination based on the fact that despite in home services under reunification plans, the evidence established that the parents failed to progress towards the established goals. In this case a child that was diagnosed with a non-organic failure to thrive, that despite the support and involvement of extended family and CYS, the child did not substantially improve in his developmental progress until he was placed in a foster home away from all family members. The Superior Court held that neither parent was able to meet the irreducible minimum requirements of care for the subject child.
7. In Re: Adoption of B.K.N., M.A.S. v. M.W.N., 820 A.2d 1274, 2003 PA Super 124 (Pa.Super., Mar 27, 2003).
This is a case where the Superior Court affirmed the trial courts dismissal of appellant's petition for the involuntary termination of appellees' parental rights for lack of jurisdiction. In this case the lower court had an outstanding open custody matter pending, and therefore, the PA Courts were not permitted to have jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5344.
8. Dauphin County Social Service for Children and Youth v. R.J.L. and Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth v. C.J.L., 138 PA Super 2003 (April 4, 2003)
On September 8, 2000, the custody trial court sua sponte declared the subject children to be dependant. Consequently, the subject children were taken into the custody of the Children and Youth Agency and placed into foster care for approximately ten (10) months. During which time the children are in care, both parents were assessed child support. The parents appealed the declaration of dependency arguing that the trial court acted beyond its authority and without jurisdiction. Their appeal was granted and the children were subsequently declared not to be dependant. Thereafter, the parents sought reimbursement of the child support that they had been paying during the dependency of the appeal and while the children were in foster care. The trial court in this instance voided the support payment and directed the parents to be reimbursed those monies. The Superior Court affirmed the lower court's order.
9. In the Matter of: S.J.-L., Appeal of: N. J.-L, 828 A.2d 352, 2003 PA Super 168 (Pa.Super., Apr 29, 2003).
The subject minor child was brought into contact with CYS due to the fact that her mother and her mother's paramour were withholding food, beating her regularly with a belt, a cord and fists. In addition to making the subject minor child sleep on a basement floor naked and bound with tape. Additionally, the mother's paramour threatened to kill the subject minor child if she told anyone about the abuse. The child was subsequently adjudicated to be dependant and placed in the care and custody of the Children and Youth Agency. At the first permanency review hearing, held six months later, the court ordered that the child remained dependant an placed in the father's custody who now resided in Florida under the protected supervision of the CYS in the Department of Children and Families. The parents did not appeal that order. At the second permanency review hearing, despite the C&Y recommendation that the child no longer be dependent, the trial court continued dependence due to the inconclusive reports from Florida. Appellant did not appeal that order. Thereafter, CYS informed the trial court by writing that the home study and other information that was inconclusive at the prior permanency review hearing had been received and reviewed and determined to be appropriate, and therefore, the child was no longer to be dependant. Both parents were served with the communication to the court. The trial court, without hearing, released the subject minor child from the custody of CYS and placed her in the custody of her father in Florida. The Superior Court held that because the father, in Florida, was ready willing and able to provide parental care and control, the subject minor child by statutory definition was no longer dependant.
10. In Re: Adoption of W.R., Appeal of: S.R., 823 A.2d 1013, 2003 PA Super 184 (Pa.Super., May 06, 2003).
The Superior Court sua sponte quashed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction to entertain the appeal due to its untimely filing.
11. In the Interest of: R.W.J., Appeal of: J.J. v. Children and Youth Services of Butler County, 826 A.2d 10, 2003 PA Super 208 (Pa.Super., May 28, 2003).
This is an appeal from a determination of dependency where four children were moved from the parents' custody. Prior to the birth of the youngest child, one of the sibling children was killed by the natural father. Despite the fact that the father was criminally convicted of involuntary manslaughter, mother chooses to return to a relationship with the father after her own incarceration involving drugs and alcohol. Following detention an adjudication was held declaring the four subject children to be dependant and implementing a family service plan. At a permanency review hearing, the trial court held that the children continue to be dependent due to the fact that mother had reunited with the father and that she had failed to complete any of the family service plan objectives. It is from that hearing that the appeal was taken. The trial court was held to correctly apply the best interest standard in determining whether or not the children should remain dependant at a permanency review hearing.
12. In Re: J.K. and J.K., Appeal of: J.K., 825 A.2d 1277, 2003 PA Super 211 (Pa.Super., May 29, 2003).
This case involves an appeal from the Decree terminating parental rights of the two subject minor children. The Superior Court held that where it was proven that the mother was convicted of prostitution and theft and where the mental health professionals had directed suspension of all visitation between children and parent and a finding of abuse was made against the appellant for emotional abuse of the children, involuntary termination of parental rights was appropriate.
13. In Re: Adoption of M.E.P., Appeal of: D.L.P., Children and Youth Service of Westmoreland County, J.C., 825 A.2d 1266, 210 PA Super 2003 (May 29, 2003)
The Superior Court held that sufficient evidence supported the trial court's finding that an unmarried mother was incapable of learning parental skills and that she failed to perform parental duties and would be unable to learn to perform them in the future based upon a psychologist that evaluated mother and testified that mother's intellectual functioning and problem solving capabilities were in the extreme low percentile of the standard psychological testing criteria and mother would be unable to live on her own. A social worker testified that mother expressed little interest in interacting with the minor child and mother refused to accept help from the social service agency.
14. In the Interest of: S.B., Appeal of: F.B. and A.M.B., and In the Interest of: E.B., Appeal of F.B. and A.M.B., 833 A.2d 1116, 286 PA Super 2003 (August 6, 2003)
This is an appeal from the determination of dependency where the adoptive father sexually abused one of the children. The trial court removed the victim child from the home, placed her into foster care while allowing the non-abused child to remain under court ordered protective supervision in the parents' home. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's decision that there was evidence that reached the level of clear necessity and required the placement of the victim child into foster care. It also held that while the non-victim child was not deemed to be abused in the home, his condition and the dysfunction of the home were such that the court deemed it necessary that CYS supervise the home.
15. In Re: C.M.S., Appeal of: T.S. and R.S., 832 A.2d 457, 292 PA Super 2003 (August 11, 2003); Reargument denied (October 16, 2003)
The Superior Court reversed the trial court's denial of a petition for involuntary termination of father's parental rights despite the court's acknowledgment that the mother had engaged in deceptive concealment of the whereabouts of his newborn child, the Superior Court held that the father did not use all available resources to preserve the parental relationship, nor did he exercise "reasonable firmness" in resisting obstacles placed in the path of maintaining the parent-child relationship. The Superior Court held that despite the fact that mother repeatedly refused to inform the father where the location of the pre-adoptive parents and his child were located, father's failure to attempt any legal action to obtain custody or visitation cannot be rationalized that father did not know the whereabouts of the child so he could not do anything.
16. In the Interest of: J.P., Appeal of: A.P., 832 A.2d 492, 327 PA Super 2003 (September 5, 2003)
The Superior Court reversed the trial court's decision to preclude father's participation in a dependency hearing pending father's resolution of criminal charges brought against him for the crime of sexual abuse allegedly committed against the subject minor child. The court held that this is a direct violation of the Juvenile Act and its opportunity to be heard.
17. In Re: Adoption of T.B.B., Jr., Appeal of K.N. and In Re: Adoption of B.M.B., Appeal of: K.N., 835 A.2d 387, 398 PA Super 2003 (October 23, 2003)
The Superior Court affirmed that the trial court's involuntary termination of parental rights of the natural mother where the mother failed to remedy the situation which brought the children into care despite the fact that they had been in care for over five years. Interesting to note in this case is that mother requested an independent psychological evaluation of the subject minor children. The trial court denied such a request because it would prove to be traumatic on the children. The Superior Court noted that if competent evidence supports the trial court's findings, the Superior Court will affirm the trial court's ruling even if the record could also support the opposite side. Consequently, the trial court's denial of the mother's request for an independent psychological evaluation was appropriate.
18. In Re: A.R., Appeal of: V.R.; In Re: L.R., Appeal of V.R., 837 A.2d 560, 2003 PA Super 456 (Pa.Super., Nov 25, 2003).
The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's involuntary termination of parental rights where mother had not attended anger management classes, failed to attend sessions at the parent center, and failed to obtain safe and stable housing; where father was unemployed and could not obtain appropriate housing for the children.
19. In the Interest of C.P. and B.P., Appeal of: M.P. and P.P., 836 A.2d 984, 2003 PA Super 433 (November 14, 2003)
The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's declaration of dependency in that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the children were dependent. Where the subject minor children were diagnosed with post traumatic disorder relative to the physical and mental abuse at the hand of their father, where it is medically necessary for the subject children to have mental health counseling and not to have contact with their father, and where the subject child was suicidal due to physical abuse. Where subject minor children were afraid of the father returning to their home and where the mother did nothing to prevent the father from returning to the home and where the parents routinely left the subject minor children at home alone for indeterminate periods of time unsupervised.
20. In Re: A.R.M.F. and M.B.F., Appeal of C.D.F. and H.E.F., 2003 PA Super 469, (December 2, 2003)
Here the Superior Court affirmed the trial court's involuntary termination of parental rights where the parents continued their evidence their incapacity to parent through their consistent display of poor judgment, marital instability and lack of commitment to counseling. The court further held that the parents failed to remedy the causation of original placement, that is where the home was consistently cluttered and constantly dangerous, which was evidenced by razor blades, Tylenol being left in the open, lack of appropriate car seat, cat fescues and a bleach bottle easily obtainable by the children. Furthermore, it is the trial court's determination where the best interests were served by terminating where the children had lived in a stable foster home for three years and were well bonded with their foster parents who were also pre-adoptive. There was also testimony that supported the fact that the children were not well bonded with their biological parents and that the parents provided little interaction between the children over the course of their placement.
21. In Re: J.L.C. and J.R.C., Appeal of J.L.C., 2003 PA Super 466, (December 2, 2003)
Here the Superior Court affirmed the trial court's involuntary termination of parental rights where the father was incarcerated at the original placement of the children and was reincarcerated several times throughout the placement of the children in foster care. Father spent in excess of 13 months in and out of incarceration while the children remained in foster care. While incarcerated father failed to contact the children more that minimally. While out of prison, father had eight visits over the course of more that two years with the children. The Superior Court held that is not enough that both boys know their father and enjoy being with him and love their father. The court held that being "uncle-daddy" is not enough and that father did not come close to doing what he should have done to bond with the children.
22. In Re: E.P., Appeal of C.P.; In Re: J.P., Appeal of C.P.; In Re: A.P., Appeal of C.P., 2003 PA Super 473, (December 4, 2003); Petition for Reargument filed December 18, 2003
The Superior Court affirmed the declaration of dependency where despite a substantial amount of assistance from C&Y, the mother demonstrated continuing inability to ensure that her children arrived at school without being hungry or on time. Therefore, the trial court held that the children being removed from the mother's care was both necessary and appropriate.
23. In Re: Involuntary Termination of C.W.S.M. and K.A.L.M.-S., Appeal of C.J.S., 2003 PA Super 478 (December 9, 2003)
In this Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights Appeal, the Superior Court reversed and remanded the trial court's termination of parental rights finding in the majorities' opinion that the record was devoid of evidence showing that the termination was in the child's best interest and that the record was silent as to the effect termination had on the children. The majority indicated that the only inquiry regarding the children was about how they were doing in their foster home placement. The Superior Court went on to find that there was a least some type of bond between the father and children and that there was evidence indicating that there had been consistent visitation and interaction between the parents and children was appropriate. The Superior Court noted that the trial court's analysis was absent of a consideration of the bonds that may or may not have existed between the father and the children and the likely affect that termination of parental rights would have on the children. The majority opinion remanded this for further testimony consistent with that finding.
The descent in this case opined that the majorities' earnestly requires the trial court to establish an additional element, the lack in emotional relationship between the children and the parents before termination would be justified. Learned Judge Tamilia validly pointed out that children continued to be attracted to the biological parents even in situations of neglect or abuse. He held that the standard should be that only when the bond is unusually strong and severance would be clearly detrimental to the children would termination be contradicted. He did not believe that to be the case here where the subject child came into contact with the C&Y Agency due to failure to thrive for many, many years after the initial contact, the parents failed to comply with the family service objectives and remedy the reasons for the initial contact and continued care and placement of the children *** it is critical to note that in doing termination of parental rights hearings, the best interest of the children in conjunction with 23 Pa.C.S.A. §2511 (b).
24. In the Interest of: M.D., Appeal of M.D., 2003 PA Super 501 (December 19, 2003)
This is a juvenile delinquency case heard by the Superior Court on the issue of whether or not an order entered after juvenile review hearing is a final order subject to appeal. The Superior Court concluded that the appeal in this circumstance, where the reviewing commitment directed that the juvenile's commitment be continued in the same treatment facility, was not reviewable, and therefore, quashed the appeal. This case is readily distinguishable from the Supreme Court case H.S.W.C.-B. & S.E.C.-B. (November 25, 2003) was Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the goal change from reunification to adoption is a final, and therefore, appealable order.
25. In the Matter of: B.L.W., Appeal of N.W., (December 29, 2003) *Dauphin County
SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA 2003
1. Commonwealth of PA v. Gerald Delbridge, 2002 WL 32170269 (September 25, 2003)
This is a case that has quickly become referenced as "taint" case wherein the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the numerous investigatory interviews of the subject child were done in such an improper and suggestive way as to render the child incompetent to testify in the criminal prosecution of that child's sexual abuse. This case will lead to omnibus pretrial motions in criminal prosecutions to determine whether or not the investigation and interview of the subject child has been done in an improper manner rendering the child incompetent to testify. This case, however, does not suggest that this is a proper exclusion in civil proceedings (i.e. child expunction).
2. Zane v. Friends Hospital, et. al., 836 A.2d 25 (Pa. November 19, 2003). This is a negligence action where the plaintiff made a discovery request for "any and all psychiatric records" involving one of the defendants. *******************************
3. In the Interest of H.S.W.C.-B. & S.E.C.-B, 836 A.2d 901 (Pa. November 25, 2003)
Here the Supreme Court determined that the goal change from reunification to the goal of adoption in order to terminate parental rights is a final, and therefore, appealable order.
4. Nixon v. Commonwealth of PA (DPW et. al.), 2003 WL 23095675 (Pa. December 30, 2003)
This case turns specifically on the wording of a statute governing the background checks of new employees and those employed in the protected facility for under two years. The PA Supreme Court found that this violated the Equal Protection sections of our constitution. The Court agreed that it is necessary to protect elder, etc. But it was on to opine that it made no sense to allow a person, who had a criminal record, but had worked for more than two (2) years to continue employment. If you are dangerous because of a criminal history, you are not any safer to provide care if you have work for more than two (2) years. If that is the case then the statute should say that after two (2) years following punishment for conviction of crime, you can work anywhere.
I believe that this case does not necessarily jeopardize our child abuse tracking system. I think that the PA Supreme Court would find that there is a rational basis to conducting criminal background checks (child abuse) on all persons who are "seeking" employment in the areas of child care. As long as the background check is equally applied to all people, it should withstand attack, despite the Nixon case!