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In re A.M.

California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division

June 19, 2013

In re A.M. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
v.
K.B., Defendant and Respondent LAKE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
A.M. et al., Appellants.

Filed 7/10/13

Lake County Super. Ct. Nos. JV320299A, JV320299B Hon. Arthur H. Mann

Anita L. Grant, County Counsel and Robert L. Weiss, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Law Offices of Donna Wickham Furth, Donna Furth, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Appellant Minors.

Leslie A. Barry, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Respondent.

Margulies, Acting P.J.

The two children of respondent K.B. (Mother) and her boyfriend (Father) were detained by appellant Lake County Department of Social Services (Agency) after doctors found the younger child, a baby, to have several bone fractures. At a contested jurisdictional hearing, a physician testified that the baby’s injuries had been inflicted by a series of violent acts. Although the parents were the baby’s only caretakers, both of them professed bafflement as to the source of the injuries. After finding the jurisdictional allegations true, the juvenile court bypassed reunification services for the parents under Welfare and Institutions Code[1] section 361.5, subdivision (b). A few months later, Mother successfully sought modification of the order denying services on evidence she had obtained a restraining order against Father and attended parenting classes. Because the juvenile court applied the wrong legal standard and failed to make necessary findings in granting reunification services to Mother, we reverse.

I. BACKGROUND

Mother and Father’s two children, S.M. and A.M., were the subjects of dependency petitions under section 300, subdivisions (a) and (j), both filed July 1, 2011. S.M., an 11-week-old boy, was detained on the allegation he was discovered, while in the care of Mother and Father, to have “multiple unexplained injuries” that were “highly suspicious non-accidental trauma.” A.M., a four-year-old girl, was detained on the basis of the alleged abuse of S.M. In a subsequent report, the Agency stated neither parent was able to provide a “feasible explanation” for the injuries. The juvenile court detained the children, and a contested jurisdictional hearing was scheduled. A few days later, the Agency filed an amended petition with respect to S.M., adding allegations under section 300, subdivisions (b) and (e) similar to the existing allegations.

At the jurisdictional hearing, held six months after the children’s detention and conducted over several days of testimony, S.M. was described by a pediatrician as having suffered seven separate bone fractures prior to his detention, one to each leg, an arm, and four ribs. Because some of the fractures showed evidence of healing at the time of discovery, the pediatrician concluded they were caused by two, three, or more separate incidents. The most recent fracture, a “complete break” of S.M.’s arm that left the bone in two pieces, occurred several days before S.M. was brought by his parents to the hospital for treatment. The injury would have been painful for S.M. both when it occurred and whenever his arm was later moved, since movement caused the broken ends of the fracture to “grind” against each other. As the pediatrician said, “Fractures are painful events and so clearly whoever was present at the time the fracture happened would have recognized that the child was in distress.... [A]nd by that, I mean crying and screaming and obviously being in pain.”

In the six months after S.M. was detained, he had not suffered any further injuries, which tended to rule out disease or other organic causes for the fractures. Tests also ruled out such problems. Rather, the pediatrician concluded, the cause of the injuries “was a series of aggressive violent acts directed towards the child. [¶]... [¶]... [V]ery, very, very few two-month-old babies have any fractures. Children this age with this many fractures are often dead because they’ve been injured so severely.”

Mother testified that she and Father lived together with S.M. and A.M. but were not married. On the day of S.M.’s detention, she and Father had taken him to the hospital because he was unable to move his arm. Prior to that date, Mother had seen no indication that S.M. had been “physically traumatized” or had any broken bones. She said the handling and treatment of S.M. by Father and A.M. had always been appropriate, and she and Father had never left S.M. in the care of anyone else. Mother denied causing the injuries herself. She was unable to explain S.M.’s injuries, other than possibly as a result of a congenital condition that she believed had affected her brother—mistakenly believed, the testimony showed.

Father had similarly never seen any sign of trauma in S.M., prior to discovering the baby could not move his arm. Father denied mistreating or mishandling S.M. Father said he was a very strong person and engaged in physical play with S.M., but nothing “unusual” had ever happened during their play. S.M. had never cried as a result of it. Father was hampered in his handling of S.M. by a brace Father wore on his hand at the time, but he had never heard S.M. cry out when he handled him. On the day they took S.M. to the hospital, S.M. had caught his arm in Father’s brace, but S.M. did not react as though he had been injured. Father had never seen Mother hurt either A.M. or S.M. He had no explanation for the injuries.

Father acknowledged having reported Mother to the police after she had repeatedly attacked him several years before, but he denied any other violence toward him by Mother. Father also acknowledged reacting very violently at the ...


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