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In re C.C.

April 13, 2009


APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Patricia Spear, Judge. Reversed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. CK69018).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Perluss, P. J.


Lisa M. appeals from an order made by the juvenile court at the June 9, 2008 disposition hearing (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 361)*fn1 denying her visitation and conjoint therapy with her 12-year-old son, C.C. Since this appeal was filed, the juvenile court has restored monthly monitored visitation through a family-law "exit order" and terminated its jurisdiction. (§ 362.4.) The issues raised in this appeal are effectively moot. However, because the court's finding of detriment and visitation order were not made in accordance with the proper standard, to avoid any possible collateral prejudice to Lisa we reverse the challenged order denying visitation without a remand for further proceedings rather than simply dismiss the appeal.


The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (Department) detained C.C. from his mother on July 5, 2007 after a month-long investigation, based on allegations of serious physical harm (§ 300, subd. (a)) and failure to protect (§ 300, subd. (b)). Before his detention C.C. split his time equally between Lisa and his father, Patrick C. According to C.C., then 10 years old, his mother had frequently struck him, grabbed him by the neck or chin and verbally abused him. C.C. was afraid Lisa would hurt him more seriously if he was forced to stay with her; he wanted to live exclusively with his father, his father's girlfriend and her two daughters.

C.C.'s allegations were largely substantiated by other family members and acquaintances, including his mother's roommate. At the detention hearing the juvenile court ordered monitored visits for Lisa and directed the Department to provide both parents with referrals and to secure individual counseling for C.C.

On July 26, 2007 the Department filed an amended petition including additional allegations of physical and emotional abuse by Lisa. The Department also filed a jurisdiction/disposition report containing multiple witness accounts of unstable, violent conduct by Lisa. In one instance Lisa physically attacked Patrick's girlfriend, Jackie, at Jackie's hair salon when Lisa showed up unexpectedly and tried to drag C.C. into her car. In another instance recounted by Lisa's roommate, when C.C. locked the door to his room to escape his mother, she removed the door with a screwdriver and screamed at him for 40 minutes while throwing things at him. The roommate, a counselor at a mental health center, described Lisa as an "unstable, unmedicated bipolar," who was more "unstable than some of [her] most severe patients." The roommate's coworker, who was coincidentally Lisa's ex-sister-in-law, concurred, describing Lisa as "borderline, bipolar or narcissistic." The Department also reported C.C. had refused to engage with his mother during a monitored visit that was terminated by the social worker when C.C. became extremely upset.

At the subsequent jurisdiction/disposition hearing the court ordered the Department to facilitate visits between Lisa and C.C. in a therapeutic setting. A week later, the court ordered Lisa to undergo an Evidence Code section 730 psychological evaluation focusing on Lisa's relationship with her son and his refusal to see her, as well as Lisa's own psychological health.

On September 7, 2007 the Department filed an ex parte request seeking suspension of visitation between Lisa and C.C. The application was based on a letter from C.C.'s therapist, Patricia Correa, indicating his level of distress had escalated after each of the three previous monitored visits. C.C. had stated he did not want to have contact with Lisa, a position Dr. Correa viewed as justified, and had threatened to harm himself and Lisa if forced to visit her. The court suspended visitation pending an evidentiary hearing. At the hearing both Dr. Correa and the visitation monitor testified. According to the monitor, who acknowledged Lisa's conduct at the visits had been appropriate, C.C. had refused to engage with Lisa and had stated repeatedly he did not want to see her. During the third visit, after C.C. left the room but was required to come back in, he sat on the floor behind the couch, banging his head on the wall and crying. The monitor corroborated Dr. Correa's view further visits would be detrimental and C.C. harbored a lot of anger he would need to work through before he could be expected to have a relationship with Lisa.

After hearing the testimony of Dr. Correa and the monitor, the court found by clear and convincing evidence continued visitation between C.C. and Lisa would be detrimental to C.C. and suspended visitation. Adjudication of the petition was continued to November 1, 2007.

On October 11, 2007 the psychiatrist retained to complete the Evidence Code section 730 evaluation, Timothy Collister, submitted his report to the court. Dr. Collister concluded, based on testing and interviews of Lisa, Patrick and C.C., Lisa's psychological profile was within normal range; C.C.'s distress was largely a product of the parents' own conflicts; and C.C. should be required to have regular visits with Lisa. In a written response to the section 730 evaluation, the Department challenged Dr. Collister's characterization of Lisa's abuse of C.C. as mild and his conclusion Patrick was contributing to C.C.'s anxiety. Dr. Correa similarly disagreed with the evaluation's conclusions, noting that, since visits had been suspended, C.C. was much happier and was receiving "straight A's" in school. She believed C.C. would eventually be willing to try visits again if allowed to first work through his anger. Nonetheless, in light of Dr. Collister's conclusions, the court granted the Department discretion to allow visits between C.C. and Lisa in a therapeutic environment.

The jurisdiction hearing on the amended petition began on November 1, 2007. Two allegations were sustained: the first relating to Lisa's use of inappropriate physical discipline (§ 300, subd. (a)); and the second relating to her emotional abuse of C.C. (§ 300, subd. (c)). The court then considered visitation issues. Dr. Correa reiterated her opinion it was premature to force C.C. to visit with Lisa. Pending completion of the hearing, the court suspended those visits. The court also granted Patrick's request that Dr. Collister's raw data be sent to a different psychiatrist for reevaluation.

At the continued hearing on December 17, 2007 Dr. Collister testified regarding his conclusions, stating in part his opinion C.C. had been inappropriately allowed to control visitation, a position that was contributing to his "turmoil." He also restated his concern Patrick had fostered the conflict between Lisa and C.C., even though he acknowledged Patrick's concern C.C. might harm himself or commit suicide.

Nonetheless, he discounted Patrick's concerns based on his assessment Patrick demonstrated "passive-aggressive personality disorder with paranoid traits." Based on Dr. Collister's testimony, the court ...

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