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In Re A.Z., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. Albert Z

December 13, 2010

IN RE A.Z., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW. ORANGE COUNTY SOCIAL SERVICES AGENCY, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
ALBERT Z., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Orange County, Caryl Lee, Judge. Dismissed. Motion to dismiss. Granted. (Super. Ct. No. DP017232)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

INTRODUCTION

Albert Z. (Father) appealed from the juvenile court's order terminating his parental rights to his daughter, then two-year-old A.Z. Father contended the juvenile court erred by finding inapplicable the parent-child relationship exception to the termination of parental rights under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(i). In his appellate briefs, Father asserted, inter alia, his concern that A. "would lose eligibility for disability and Veteran's Administration benefits that she would be entitled to through [him]" if his parental rights were terminated.

During the pendency of this appeal, Father's counsel informed this court of Father's death and filed a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot. We appointed counsel to represent A. and invited all parties to file supplemental briefs addressing the proper resolution of this appeal in light of A.'s best interests. For the reasons we explain, we dismiss the appeal as moot. We publish this opinion because the parties have not cited, and we have not found, any published opinion addressing the proper disposition of a dependency appeal when an appellant parent dies while the appeal is pending.

BACKGROUND

A. was taken into protective custody by the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) on July 7, 2008, and was placed in the home of her paternal aunt and uncle (the prospective adoptive parents) four days later. On July 9, SSA filed a juvenile dependency petition in Orange County Juvenile Court, which alleged A. came within the juvenile court's jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b) (failure to protect) and subdivision (j) (abuse of sibling). In view of the issue before us, we need not recite the allegations of the petition, as amended, or the SSA reports. Father pleaded nolo contendere to the allegations of the amended petition. The juvenile court sustained the allegations of the amended petition and approved a case plan for Father.

At the 12-month review hearing, the court terminated Father's reunification services and set a permanency hearing. The juvenile court found A. adoptable. The court also found that none of the exceptions to Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1) applied and ordered Father's and A.'s mother's parental rights terminated. Father appealed from the court's order terminating his parental rights solely on the ground the court erred by finding inapplicable the parent-child relationship exception to the termination of parental rights. A.'s mother is not a party to this appeal.

While this appeal was pending, Father's counsel informed this court that Father had passed away in August 2010, and submitted a certified copy of Father's death certificate. Father's counsel filed a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot.

We appointed counsel to represent A., and invited all parties to submit supplemental briefs addressing the proper resolution of this appeal, including whether Father's counsel's motion should be granted (see Guardianship of Crossley (1934) 1 Cal.2d 460), whether the proceedings should be "permanently abated" (People v. McCoy (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 1578, 1587 [following the death of the appellant, the appellate court stated "all proceedings in the cause have permanently abated" and directed the superior court "to enter an order to that effect"]), or whether some other action by this court is appropriate. Our order inviting supplemental briefs further stated that such briefs "should also address the impact any potential action by this court might have on the progress of A.Z.'s adoption proceedings and any other matter relating to her best interests."

Father's counsel, A.'s counsel, and county counsel each submitted a supplemental brief; all contended it is in A.'s best interests for this court to dismiss the appeal.

DISCUSSION

"'An appeal becomes moot when, through no fault of the respondent, the occurrence of an event renders it impossible for the appellate court to grant the appellant effective relief. [Citations.]'" (In re Anna S. (2010) 180 Cal.App.4th 1489, 1498; In re Christina A. (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1153, 1158 [if subsequent acts or events have rendered questions ...


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