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In re J.C.

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Third Division

January 2, 2014

In re J.C., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. ORANGE COUNTY SOCIAL SERVICES AGENCY, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
L.N., Defendant and Appellant.

Pub. order 1/17/14

Appeal from a postjudgment order of the Superior Court of Orange County No. DP020229, Jacki C. Brown, Judge.

Jacob I. Olson, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Nicholas S. Chrisos, County Counsel, and Karen L. Christensen, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

IKOLA, J.

J.C. was a dependent of the court until she turned 18, at which point, upon her request, the court terminated dependency jurisdiction. The mother, whose parental rights were not terminated, but who was not receiving reunification services, appeals, contending the court failed to determine whether terminating jurisdiction was in the best interest of J.C. We dismiss the appeal for lack of standing.

FACTS

In October of 2010 the juvenile court sustained a petition declaring then minor J.C. a dependent of the court. The court found that J.C. was not attending school, suffered a hospitalization due to serious mental illness, and that she was receiving inadequate medical care. Mother, who is blind, divorced father when J.C. was 4 years old. J.C. had been living with father ever since. The court initially permitted J.C. to continue living with father. But in July of 2011, after father continued to neglect J.C.’s schooling and proper psychiatric care, and after another psychiatric hospitalization, the court took custody of J.C away from the parents in favor of the Social Services Agency and placed her at Orangewood Children and Family Center (Orangewood). The court ordered reunification services.

J.C.’s psychiatric condition slowly improved at Orangewood and she was eventually placed with foster parents. Shortly thereafter, the court terminated reunification services, but not parental rights. Although J.C. had two psychiatric setbacks that required hospitalization after moving in with the foster parents, J.C.’s condition continued to improve, particularly after doctors found an improved medication regimen.

J.C. turned 18 years old in July of 2013. J.C. was fully informed of her right to continue in the juvenile dependency program as a nonminor dependent through the age of 21. She was also informed that, should she choose to terminate jurisdiction at age 18, she had the right to petition the court to resume jurisdiction prior to turning 21. Although J.C. had previously vacillated concerning whether to remain in the dependency program as a nonminor dependent, at a post permanency review hearing on her 18th birthday, J.C. requested that the court terminate jurisdiction so she could return to living with her father. The court asked J.C. to think over her decision for one week. A week later, she was determined that the court terminate jurisdiction. Based on that request, the court terminated dependency jurisdiction. Mother appealed, claiming the trial court failed to make a finding that termination of jurisdiction was in the best interests of J.C.

DISCUSSION

We dismiss mother’s appeal because she lacks standing. “Although standing to appeal is construed liberally, and doubts are resolved in its favor, only a person aggrieved by a decision may appeal. [Citations.] An aggrieved person, for this purpose, is one whose rights or interests are injuriously affected by the decision in an immediate and substantial way, and not as a nominal or remote consequence of the decision. [Citations.] These rules apply with full force to appeals from dependency proceedings.” (In re K.C. (2011) 52 Cal.4th 231, 236.)

To determine whether a parent has standing, “we must therefore precisely identify [mother’s] interest in the matter.” (In re K.C., supra, 52 Cal.4th at p. 236.) Mother asserts she has standing because the termination of jurisdiction resulted in J.C. living with father, and mother worries father will neglect J.C.’s psychiatric treatment, which will damage mother’s relationship with J.C. That interest, while perfectly understandable on an emotional level, does not confer legal standing.

“‘All parents, unless and until their parental rights are terminated, have an interest in their children’s ‘companionship, care, custody and management....’ [Citation.] This interest is a ‘compelling one, ranked among the most basic of civil rights.’” “To this end, the law requires the juvenile court to provide reunification services unless a statutory exception applies. [Citations.] In contrast, after reunification services are terminated... (as in this case), ‘the parents’ interest in the care, custody and companionship of the child [is] no longer paramount. Rather, at this point “the focus shifts to the needs of the child for permanency and ...


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