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In re Isabella F.

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fourth Division

April 17, 2014

In re ISABELLA F., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. SONOMA COUNTY HUMAN SERVICES DEPARTMENT, Plaintiff and Respondent, Y.M., Defendant and Appellant.

Sonoma County Super. Ct. No. 4130-DEP

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COUNSEL

Roni Keller, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Bruce D. Goldstein, County Counsel, Ian W. Trueblood, Deputy County Counsel; and Julia K. Freis for Plaintiff" and Respondent.

OPINION

HUMES, J.

Appellant Y.M. (mother) challenges the juvenile court’s order declaring jurisdiction over her daughter, Isabella F., finding that Isabella suffered serious physical harm and faced a substantial risk of further harm, and adjudging Isabella a dependent minor. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 300, subds. (a), (b).)[1] Mother contends that the record lacks substantial evidence supporting the court’s jurisdictional findings. We agree and therefore reverse.

I.

Factual and Procedural Background

Isabella was born in May 2003 and has two older siblings, one of whom currently lives in the home with Isabella and mother and is not the subject of these proceedings. Isabella’s father, David F. (father), does not live in the home, is apparently uninvolved in Isabella’s life, and likewise is not a party to this appeal.[2]

The current proceedings were initiated after an altercation between mother and Isabella on the morning of February 27, 2013.[3] Isabella had argued with her older brother about money he had given her to buy hot chocolate at school. Though the record contains different accounts of the altercation, it is clear that mother became physical with Isabella after Isabella resisted getting ready for school. Once at school, Isabella cried and reported that mother hit her in the face, grabbed her by the neck, and locked her in the bathroom. School personnel were familiar with Isabella, who reportedly was chronically

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truant and complained to her school office almost daily about headaches and stomach aches, and staff believed Isabella’s problems at school were related to her troubled home environment. Isabella told a social worker that she was afraid of mother. A social worker reported that Isabella had scratches, consistent with fingernail scratches, on one side of her face and had a gouge mark on her left ear lobe consistent with a fingernail injury. Photographs were taken of the injuries, and they show the gouge mark and what appears to be a small cut on Isabella’s cheekbone and discoloration around the cut, but they do not clearly depict significant injuries.[4]

When a social worker tried to discuss the incident with mother the same day, mother’s speech seemed “pressured and her thinking tangential, ” and mother immediately informed the social worker that she “has a legal right to spank her child if she wants to.” Mother admitted holding Isabella down and trying to spank her but denied hitting her in the face. When mother spoke with a social worker later, she explained that Isabella was having a “really bad tantrum” the morning of the altercation, and she tried to pull Isabella into the bathroom to calm her down. She told the social worker, “I would never intentionally hurt her and I don’t understand how she got those marks as I don’t even have long nails. If I did scratch her, it was an accident because I would never leave marks on my children intentionally.” She also acknowledged that she should have taken another approach to the situation and simply “walked out.”

The day after the incident, February 28, the Department filed a dependency petition alleging that Isabella had suffered serious physical harm (§ 300, subd. (a)) from mother’s physical assault. The petition further alleged that there was a substantial risk that Isabella would suffer additional serious physical harm (§ 300, subd. (b)), based on father’s mental-health issues.[5] Isabella was detained in shelter care.

A team decision-making meeting was held the same day the petition was filed. Mother, Isabella’s two older siblings, the principal of Isabella’s school, representatives from an Indian tribe to which mother belongs, and two social workers attended. One of the social workers was “very impressed at ...


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