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In Re M.D., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. Bonnie O

December 28, 2010


APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Garry G. Haehnle, Judge. Reversed and remanded with directions. (Super. Ct. No. SJ12068)

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

In re M.D. CA4/1


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Mother Bonnie O. appeals following a combined 12- and 18-month review hearing in the dependency case of her daughter, M.D. Bonnie contends the juvenile court erred by finding that she was provided reasonable reunification services. We agree.


Bonnie has an extensive history of drug use, punctuated by periods of treatment, sobriety and relapse. She began using marijuana, methamphetamines and alcohol when she was 15 years old. She began using heroin when she was about 24 years old. In 2003, when she was 30 years old, she was arrested for possessing and selling a controlled substance. She spent two months in jail, attended an outpatient drug treatment program and received methadone treatment for eight months. The methadone treatment ended when she relapsed and was arrested for possessing and being under the influence of a controlled substance. In 2004 Bonnie successfully completed eight months of court-mandated residential drug treatment. She relapsed about nine months later and continued using drugs for a couple of years. While pregnant with M.D., Bonnie used heroin and cocaine intravenously three times a day.

When M.D. was born in September 2008, she tested presumptively positive for cocaine and heroin and suffered withdrawal symptoms. Bonnie also tested presumptively positive for cocaine and heroin. She admitted using drugs while pregnant and had little prenatal care. Based on those facts, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (the Agency) filed a dependency petition. M.D. was detained in the hospital. She was later moved to a foster home, and then to the home of a maternal aunt.

At the September 2008 detention hearing, the court referred Bonnie to the Substance Abuse Recovery Management System (SARMS) program for an evaluation. Within a week Bonnie began participating in SARMS and began methadone treatment.

In October 2008 the court made a true finding on the petition and ordered M.D. placed in foster care. The court ordered Bonnie to comply with a case plan comprising of parenting education and substance abuse treatment. Concerning the latter, the plan stated: "[Bonnie] will continue with her methadone treatment until the methadone clinic and [Bonnie] determine that it is safe to refrain from methadone treatment. While [Bonnie] is participating in methadone treatment, [Bonnie] shall continue to attend outpatient drug treatment as outlined in the SARMS referral from the Detention Hearing. [¶] Once [Bonnie] has completed her methadone treatment, the Agency will refer her back to SARMS for further substance abuse recommendations. [Bonnie] will successfully complete the recommendations outlined by SARMS which can include outpatient treatment, random drug testing, and attendance at [Narcotics Anonymous] meetings." The court warned Bonnie that if she did not make substantive progress in her case plan in six months, her parental rights might be terminated.

On November 12, 2008, Bonnie tested positive for methadone at SARMS. As a result, Bonnie's SARMS counselor deemed her noncompliant. The methadone clinic then advised SARMS that Bonnie "will need approximately four months at a stable dose before slowly detoxing in order to avoid relapse. Please remember . . . that methadone is a treatment, not a substitute for heroin." On November 18 Bonnie again tested positive for methadone. This time, the SARMS counselor deemed Bonnie compliant. Nevertheless, the counselor still filled out a form "Declaration Re: Contempt" stating Bonnie "was able to comply with this order (by not possessing, using or consuming alcohol or illegal substances) each time [she] disobeyed it."

Bonnie's social worker, Emma Soto, had no experience with methadone treatment. On February 18, 2009 Soto told Bonnie "she needed to be off methadone prior to [M.D.] being returned to her." In order to obtain M.D.'s return, Bonnie immediately began reducing her methadone dosage at a rapid rate.*fn1 In March Soto sought information about methadone from the Agency's psychiatrist and from Bonnie's drug counselor, Patricia Consoli. They told Soto that a person with a long history of drug abuse might need to continue methadone treatment for a long time, possibly a lifetime. Soto's reports discussed Bonnie's methadone treatment and the tapering of her dose, but did not mention Soto's conversations with the Agency's psychiatrist and Consoli, or Soto's February conversation with Bonnie. By March 4 Soto realized that her February statement to Bonnie was erroneous.

On April 9, 2009, the court ordered Bonnie to participate in SARMS. The court warned her that noncompliance with SARMS might result in a finding of contempt, and a finding of contempt might result in a jail sentence of up to five days and a fine of up to $1000. On April 22 Soto told Bonnie that due to her long history of drug abuse, she "might need to stay on her methadone treatment for a long time or the rest of her life." Bonnie responded that "she knew that." On May 6 the court told Bonnie its SARMS "reprimand . . . regarding jail and fines was inadvertently given and is now deleted."

The six-month review hearing took place on May 21, 2009. The court found Bonnie had been provided or offered reasonable services, had complied with SARMS during the latest reporting period (April 16 to April 30) and had made substantive progress on her case ...

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