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In Re B.F. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. Sarah F

December 6, 2010

IN RE B.F. ET AL., PERSONS COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
SARAH F., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT;
C.D. ET AL., INTERVENERS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Rodney L. Walker, Judge. (Retired judge of the Riverside Super. Ct. assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to art. VI, § 6 of the Cal. Const.) Reversed. (Super. Ct. No. NJ14133A-B)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Sharyn Leonard, Public Defender, and Cindy A. McCabe, Deputy Public Defender; Susan Bookout, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Minors.

Mother Sarah F. appeals the juvenile court's order granting a Welfare and Institutions Code*fn1 section 827 petition and thus authorizing the release of Sarah's court-ordered psychological evaluation. The petition was brought by C.D. and her husband, S.D. (together, the D.'s), who are the de facto parents of Sarah's minor children, juvenile court dependents B.F. and R.R. (together, the children). Sarah contends the court abused its discretion by allowing the D.'s access to the evaluation. We agree.

BACKGROUND

In June 2009 the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (the Agency) filed dependency petitions for 21-month-old B.F. and two-month-old R.R. The petitions alleged R.R. was left on a dining room table without proper supervision and was then found on a tile floor, screaming and crying. He had a swollen, cut and bloody lip and a chin contusion. The children were detained in Polinsky Children's Center and then with C.D.*fn2 In August the juvenile court made true findings on the petitions. The court ordered B.F. placed with Sarah and R.R. placed with Sarah and Timothy. The court ordered family maintenance services.

In December 2009 the Agency filed supplemental petitions and the children were again detained with C.D. The supplemental petitions alleged that in October, the police stopped the car in which Sarah, Timothy and the children were riding. Timothy was arrested for a parole violation and Sarah was cited for possessing drug paraphernalia. In December Timothy pushed and hit Sarah while she was holding B.F. Sarah said Timothy grabbed her by the hair and beat her. Timothy said Sarah tried to hit him. In February 2010 the court made true findings on the supplemental petitions, ordered the children placed with C.D. and ordered reunification services. The court ordered Sarah to undergo a psychological evaluation. The evaluation took place on April 7.

At a hearing on April 19, 2010, C.D. asked for copies of the Agency's reports. The court ordered that the existing reports be made available to the D.'s. The court ordered that any report filed in the future be provided to the D.'s, but allowed objections to be made within 10 days of the filing date. Absent an objection, the report would be given to the D.'s 10 days after its filing. If any party objected to portions of a report, that party would be required to contact the court clerk and ask for a hearing. The court would then hold a hearing to determine whether those portions would be released.

At the April 19, 2010 hearing, Sarah's counsel said she would object to the release of any confidential information concerning Sarah, including the psychological evaluation which had not yet been filed. The court said it would presume Sarah knew when the evaluation and future reports were filed, and it stressed several times that she would have the burden to review them and contact her attorney if she objected to the release of any portion. If Sarah did not object within the time allowed the court would release the material to the D.'s. The court stated the presumption that Sarah knew of the filing could be rebutted only by a showing of good cause.

On April 29, 2010, the D.'s filed a "DEMAND FOR MEDICAL EVALUATION AND REPORTS" in the children's cases. The demand did not cite any supporting authority. On May 13 Sarah's counsel filed opposition, which the court deemed timely. The opposition correctly noted that section 827 was the proper avenue for the D.'s' request and specifically objected to the disclosure of the psychological evaluation and related material. On May 25 the D.'s filed a section 827 petition for disclosure of the children's juvenile case files, including Sarah's psychological evaluation "and all supporting documents." The D.'s also filed a reply to Sarah's opposition. The petition and reply set forth the D.'s' reasons for requesting the files. The reply argued that Sarah's opposition did not comply with the court's order for "specific objections to those portions of the [psychological evaluation] which were claimed to be confidential."

On June 8, 2010, the Agency filed Sarah's psychological evaluation. The court held a hearing that day concerning release of the evaluation to the D.'s. C.D. argued she needed to know the children's "physical history as far as any congenital issues that may develop like heart disease or diabetes" and whether "there's anything that runs in [Sarah]'s line like manic depression, any kind of behavioral disorder, so that I can provide the best mental and physical care to these children." Sarah, the Agency's counsel and the children's counsel opposed the release of Sarah's psychological evaluation. After reviewing the evaluation in camera, the court authorized its release to the D.'s. The court stayed its order until the close of business on June 14 to allow Sarah to petition this court for writ relief.

On June 9, 2010, Sarah filed a notice of appeal from the order granting the D.'s' section 827 petition. On June 11 she filed a petition for writ of supersedeas. On June 14 this court stayed the release of Sarah's psychological evaluation pending further order and requested responses to Sarah's petition from all parties. The Agency, the children's trial counsel and the D.'s filed responses. On June 30 this court granted the petition for writ of supersedeas and stayed release of Sarah's psychological evaluation to the D.'s pending resolution of this appeal.

DISCUSSION

The juvenile court's decision in this case reflects a misapprehension of principles of juvenile dependency law, the rights of de facto parents and the procedures to be followed when the dependency court is presented with a section 387 petition. ...


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