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In re Suhey G.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division

November 21, 2013

In re SUHEY G., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Real Party in Interest.

ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate. Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. CK92510, Debra L. Losnick, Juvenile Court Referee. (Pursuant to Cal. Const., art. VI, § 21.)

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COUNSEL

Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Law Office of Marlene Furth, Danielle Butler Vappie and Diane Nicola, for Petitioner.

John F. Krattli, County Counsel, James M. Owens, Assistant County Counsel, and Aileen Wong, Deputy County Counsel, for Real Party in Interest.

OPINION

CROSKEY, Acting P. J.

INTRODUCTION

By petition for an extraordinary writ, Esteban G. (father) asks us to vacate the trial court’s order (1) for an evaluation of him under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC; Fam. Code, § 7900 et seq.) and (2) setting a selection and implementation hearing pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code[1] section 366.26[2] as to his daughter, five year old Suhey G. (Suhey). Father contends that the court abused its discretion in ordering an ICPC evaluation because the ICPC does not apply to out-of-state placements with a parent. Father further contends that the court erred in setting a section 366.26 hearing without requiring the Los Angeles County Department of

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Children and Family Services (Department) to show that placement of Suhey with father would be detrimental to her under section 361.2.[3]

We issued a stay of the section 366.26 hearing and an order to show cause and the Department responded. We have reviewed the petition on the merits and conclude that the court erred to the extent it set a section 366.26 hearing and denied father a fair opportunity to present his case for relief under section 361.2.[4] The petition, however, will be denied as to father’s objection to the trial court’s order for an ICPC evaluation on the ground that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering such an evaluation.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[5]

On March 12, 2012, the Department filed a petition alleging, among other things, that (1) Suhey had been physically abused by her mother, Brenda L. (mother), (2) mother abused methamphetamine, and (3) Suhey and her infant brother[6] had been exposed to violent conduct between mother and mother’s male companion. Although the Department possessed county records indicating that father’s last known address was in the state of Idaho, the Department served father with notice of the detention hearing at his last known street address in “Idaho, California.”[7] At the detention hearing, the Department reported that father’s “whereabouts were unknown.” The court found that father was Suhey’s presumed father and ordered the Department to present evidence of due diligence in its attempts to locate father. The children were ordered detained and were placed in the home of their maternal aunt (maternal aunt). The Department was ordered to provide mother with family reunification services.

The Department attempted to serve father with notice of the jurisdiction/disposition hearing at the “Idaho, California” address once again. The record shows that the notice was returned to the Department as “not deliverable as addressed.” At the hearing on April 23, 2012, the court sustained

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the petition’s allegations under section 300, subdivisions (a) and (b).[8] The Department filed a declaration documenting its efforts to locate father and stating that his whereabouts remained unknown.[9] At the hearing, mother was ordered to participate in counseling and random drug testing, and was allowed monitored visits with Suhey. The court further ordered that mother be provided with reunification services but denied reunification services to father pursuant to section 361.5, subdivision (b)(1) on the grounds that his whereabouts were unknown.[10]

In a report prepared for the six-month review hearing, the Department stated that mother was not fully compliant with her drug treatment program, had failed to appear for the majority of her drug tests, and had often missed scheduled visits with the children. The Department recommended terminating mother’s reunification services. On October 22, 2012, the court set the matter for a contested six month review hearing on January 8, 2013. The only attempt to again serve father was the mailing of a notice to the same address in “Idaho, California.”[11]

On December 5, 2012, father contacted the Department and stated that he wanted custody of Suhey. Maternal relatives had informed him about the proceedings.[12] Father said that he had lived with mother for the first year of Suhey’s life. After he and mother separated, he tried to get visitation with Suhey but mother would not cooperate. He said that mother had “kept Suhey away from” him for the past two to three years. Maternal aunt also said that mother had threatened to report father to immigration services for being in the United States without documentation if he tried to obtain custody of

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Suhey. Suhey said that she remembered father and that she would like to visit with him. Father started talking with Suhey by phone several times a week.[13]

On December 21, 2012, the Department received a child abuse referral from a mandated reporter[14] who expressed “concern” about a “bluish purple” bruise three inches in diameter around Suhey’s left ear. The reporter also stated that Suhey said she was afraid to go home. The Department investigated the referral. When asked about the bruising, Suhey said “she could have fallen on the play ground at school, ” then “immediately corrected herself and said that she was running at school [, ] [and] [s]he ran into an object and hit the side of her face against a pole at school.” Suhey said she was not hit or spanked by maternal aunt.

Maternal aunt said that Suhey must have been injured at school, and denied hitting or spanking Suhey or her own children. When one of Suhey’s cousins was asked about the bruising on Suhey’s face, she said “ ‘I don’t know who did it.’ ” The other two cousins said that they did not know how Suhey received the bruise. The Department noted that several school personnel expressed concerns about Suhey, but concluded that ...


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