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In Re I.J. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. J.J

May 9, 2013

IN RE I.J. ET AL., PERSONS COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW. LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
J.J., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Court: Superior County: Los Angeles Judge: Timothy R. Saito Ct.App. 2/8 B237271 Super. Ct. No. CK 59248

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

Los Angeles County

The Court of Appeal upheld a juvenile court's finding that a father sexually abused his daughter over a three-year period. It further held that this finding supports the determination that the daughter and her younger sister are dependents of the court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300. Those questions are not before us. Rather, we must decide whether a father's sexual abuse of his daughter supports a determination that his sons are juvenile court dependents when there is no evidence the father sexually abused or otherwise mistreated the boys, and they were unaware of their sister's abuse before this proceeding began.

We conclude that a father's prolonged and egregious sexual abuse of his own child may provide substantial evidence to support a finding that all his children are juvenile court dependents.

I. Facts and Procedural History

We take these facts largely from the majority opinion in the Court of Appeal.

J.J. (father) is the father of two daughters and three sons. On August 8, 2011, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (Department) filed a petition alleging that all five children -- daughters who were then 14 and nine years old, twin 12-year-old boys, and a boy who would soon turn eight years old -- were dependents of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300.*fn1 The petition alleged that father had sexually abused I.J., the older daughter, and that the abuse also placed the younger siblings at risk of harm. Regarding the younger siblings, the petition cited section 300, subdivisions (b) (failure to protect), (d) (sexual abuse), and (j) (abuse of sibling). Father denied the allegations of sexual abuse.

The juvenile court sustained allegations that on August 2, 2011, "and on prior occasions for the past three years," father sexually abused I.J. "by fondling the child's vagina and digitally penetrating the child's vagina and forcefully raped the child by placing the father's penis in the child's vagina. On prior occasions, the father forced the child to expose the child's vagina to the father and the father orally copulated the child's vagina. On a prior occasion, the father forced the child to watch pornographic videos with the father. [I.J.] is afraid of the father due to the father's sexual abuse of [I.J.]. The sexual abuse of [I.J.] by the father endangers [I.J.'s] physical health and safety and places the child and the child's siblings . . . at risk of physical harm, damage, danger, sexual abuse and failure to protect."

There is no evidence or claim that father sexually abused or otherwise mistreated his three sons, and the evidence indicates that they had not witnessed any of the sexual abuse and were unaware of it before this proceeding began. The boys said they felt safe in the home and liked living with their parents.

After sustaining the factual allegations, the juvenile court declared all the children dependents of the court. It found, "by clear and convincing evidence, . . . that there is a substantial danger to the children, if returned to the home, to the physical health, safety, protection, physical, emotional well-being of the children, and there are no reasonable means by which the children's physical health can be protected without removing the children from the father's custody in this case." It removed the children from father's custody, and ordered them placed with their mother under the Department's supervision. The court ordered visits for father monitored by someone other than the mother, and ordered father to attend a "program of sex abuse counseling for perpetrators" and to undergo family counseling.

Father appealed. The Court of Appeal unanimously held that the evidence was sufficient to support the juvenile court's finding that father had sexually abused I.J., and that the abuse supported the court's declaring I.J. and her sister to be dependants of the court. It divided on the question of whether the abuse also warranted the court's further declaring her brothers to be dependents of the court. The majority, in an opinion by Justice Grimes, joined by Presiding Justice Bigelow, upheld the jurisdictional finding. Justice Flier dissented, arguing that father's sexual abuse of his daughter, without more, did not warrant the court's assuming jurisdiction over his sons.

We granted father's petition for review to decide whether his abuse of his daughter supported the court's declaring his sons to be dependents of the court.

II. Discussion

The Court of Appeal unanimously held that the evidence supports the juvenile court's finding that father abused his daughter. That holding is not before us on review and, accordingly, we accept the Court of Appeal's conclusion in this regard. (See People v. Weiss (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1073, 1076-1077.) Father contends, however, that evidence that he sexually abused his daughter does not ...


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