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In Re I.A., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. J.W

December 19, 2011


Trial Court: Alameda County Superior Court Trial Judge: Hon. Kimberly M. Briggs (Alameda County Super. Ct. No. OJ10015955-01)

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


I.A. (minor) was detained at birth by Alameda County Social Services Agency (agency) after she tested positive for cocaine. As a basis for jurisdiction, the agency alleged I.A.'s mother (Mother) abused drugs, preventing her from caring properly for the minor, and Mother and the minor's alleged father, appellant J.W. (Father), had engaged in domestic violence and had criminal histories. The juvenile court sustained all of the jurisdictional allegations and detained the minor. Father contends the jurisdictional findings involving his conduct should be vacated because they were not supported by substantial evidence, but he does not challenge the validity of the jurisdictional finding based on Mother's drug abuse. Because Father's contentions, even if accepted, would not justify a reversal of the court's jurisdictional ruling or the grant of any other effective relief, we decline to address them and dismiss the appeal.


The minor was the subject of a dependency petition under Welfare and Institutions Code*fn1 section 300, subdivisions (b) and (g), filed November 15, 2010.*fn2 Under subdivision (b), the petition alleged the minor tested positive for cocaine at birth and Mother had a history of drug abuse that limited her ability to care for the minor. In addition, it alleged she had reported episodes of domestic violence between herself and Father, and both had criminal histories. The minor was detained and placed in foster care, and a paternity test was ordered for Father.

The agency's jurisdictional report noted Mother had admitted using crack cocaine prior to giving birth to the minor. She gave birth at home, apparently without proper prenatal care, and had made no provision for the minor's care. Mother had been in and out of drug treatment for the last 10 years, and her two earlier children both resided with their fathers. Father had custody of one of those children, an older sister of the minor. During a meeting with the agency, Father acknowledged he and Mother had "fights," and Mother told the agency Father was verbally abusive and had committed domestic violence. Based on the tone of Father's remarks to Mother during this meeting, the agency's social worker concluded "they were in a domestic violent relationship." Father's arrest record revealed 14 aliases and 7 Social Security numbers. He had been arrested for battery against a cohabitant in 2006, resisting an officer in 2005, theft in 2002, and several drug and theft charges in 1990 and 1996.

At the contested jurisdictional hearing, the social worker confirmed Father told her he was arrested for battery in 2006 after he and Mother got into a fight. During the meeting at which this disclosure was made, the social worker observed Father make demeaning remarks to Mother and raise his voice, leading her to characterize his conduct as "emotionally and psychologically abusive." She found "[h]is tone and the manner in which he spoke to [Mother] . . . shocking."

Father testified he had known Mother for about 10 or 11 years and believed he was the minor's biological father.*fn3 He denied ever being abusive to Mother. He said the 2006 arrest for battery was based on her false statement to police he had hit her and pointed out no charges were filed in connection with the arrest. He also denied demeaning or otherwise mistreating Mother at the meeting with the agency. Although Father acknowledged having been criminally convicted "a few times when I was younger," he claimed his most recent arrest, before the 2006 arrest, was in 1996.

Mother acknowledged using crack cocaine, testifying she had relapsed seven months into her pregnancy with the minor. With respect to Father, she testified that over the course of their 10-year acquaintance, she "periodically" had occasion to fear him. He would call her names and intimidate her with "forceful and demanding . . . words. They just put me in a certain feeling, you know, a feeling of fear." On three occasions, she had called police when he refused to leave her home. Mother was also reluctant to cross Father, since she depended upon him for access to the daughter of whom he had custody.

Without explanation, the juvenile court found true all of the petition's allegations under section 300, subdivision (b). By the time of the dispositional hearing, Mother was participating in a residential drug treatment program. The court placed the minor in Mother's custody, ordered reunification services for Mother, and granted visitation to Father.


Father contends the juvenile court's jurisdictional findings involving his conduct were unsupported because there was no evidence his conduct presented a substantial risk to the minor. The agency urges us to dismiss the appeal, arguing it fails to raise a justiciable issue because Father has not challenged all of the jurisdictional findings. Because we agree with the agency this appeal does not raise a justiciable issue, we do not reach the merits of Father's contention.

A. Justiciability Doctrine

It is a fundamental principle of appellate practice that an appeal will not be entertained unless it presents a justiciable issue. (E.g., Costa Serena Owners Coalition v. Costa Serena Architectural Com. (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1175, 1205-1206 (Costa Serena).) The justification for this doctrine, which in general terms requires an appeal to concern a present, concrete, and genuine dispute as to which the court can grant effective relief, is well explained by Wright and Miller's hornbook of federal practice: "The central perception is that courts should not render decisions absent a genuine need to resolve a real dispute. Unnecessary decisions dissipate judicial energies better conserved for litigants who have a real need for official assistance. As to the parties themselves, courts should not undertake the role of helpful counselors . . . . Defendants, moreover, should not be forced to bear the burdens of litigation without substantial justification . . . . Perhaps more importantly, decisions involve lawmaking. Courts worry that unnecessary lawmaking should be avoided, both as a ...

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