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In re Armando L.

California Court of Appeals, Fifth District

July 14, 2016

In re ARMANDO L., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. MERCED COUNTY HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY, Plaintiff and Respondent,
SANDY M., Defendant and Appellant

          APPEAL from orders of the Superior Court of Merced County, No. JP000930, Frank Dougherty, Judge.

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         Rebekah S. Sass, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

         James N. Fincher, County Counsel, and Kimberly R. Helms, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

         Opinion by Peña, J., with Levy, Acting P. J., and Poochigian, J., concurring.


          [204 Cal.Rptr.3d 861] PEÑA, J.


         At the conclusion of a review hearing pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 364[1] on October 29, 2015, the juvenile court terminated its jurisdiction over 11-year-old Armando L., who had been a dependent of the juvenile court for two years. Armando's mother, Sandy M. (mother), contends the juvenile court improperly denied her an evidentiary hearing on the issues of Armando's custody and whether the court's jurisdiction should have been

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terminated. We agree. In doing so, we reject the arguments of Merced County Human Services Agency (agency) that the juvenile court's denial of an evidentiary hearing was proper because mother's objection was outside the scope of the hearing, the evidence mother wanted to introduce was irrelevant, and any error in the juvenile court's ruling was harmless. Accordingly, the orders of the juvenile court must be reversed.


         Initial Proceedings

         On October 30, 2013, a petition was filed pursuant to section 300 alleging Armando, then nine years old, had come to school with bruises on his face caused by his father hitting him. Father hit Armando because he was frustrated at not being able to repair a neighbor's vacuum cleaner and had slapped Armando in the face four times for no reason. Father admitted he " popped" his son in the mouth after Armando talked back to him. Armando had purple bruises on both sides of his cheeks, under his eyes, and both sides of his nose. There was redness on his left cheek with linear lines appearing to be fingerprints.

         According to the petition, mother failed to contact the authorities to report the abuse or to take Armando immediately to the doctor. Mother did take photographs of Armando's injuries. Armando reported he was disciplined by father and father's girlfriend by being hit. Mother had legal and physical custody of Armando, but left him in father's care because Armando was [204 Cal.Rptr.3d 862] diagnosed with ADHD and she had trouble controlling his behavioral problems. In addition, mother had been diagnosed with ADHD and depression and was raising three other children.

         Armando was immediately detained after the incident was reported to school authorities on October 28, 2013, and the juvenile court sustained the detention on October 31, 2013. Armando reported to social workers another episode of being hit by his father and explained he did not like staying with his father. Mother told social workers she was concerned about Armando's behaviors and believed she would have an easier time controlling him with services. Mother reported she left Armando's father because there was domestic violence between them. Mother was unaware father was using drugs around their son. Mother denied any domestic violence in her current relationship.

         Father reported to social workers Armando had been living with him for about a year. Father admitted he had been in prison off and on since he was 18 years old and denied having any domestic violence in his current

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relationship. Father admitted using methamphetamine once or twice a month and claimed he did not buy it but it was given to him at a friend's house. Father said he was prescribed Vicodin and ibuprofen. Drug and hair follicle tests from father right after Armando was detained tested positive for methamphetamine.

         The agency recommended mother stabilize her mental health and address the domestic violence of her past. The agency recommended mother receive nurturing classes and have a mental health assessment. The agency recommended family reunification services for father, including parenting classes and programs to address his substance abuse. These would include a drug and alcohol assessment to determine the extent of father's addiction. The agency recommended family maintenance services for mother, with custody of Armando with mother, and family reunification services for father. At the joint jurisdiction/disposition hearing on November 21, 2013, the juvenile court adopted the recommendations of the agency ordering family maintenance services for mother, reunification services for father, and leaving Armando's custody with mother.

         Supplemental Petition

         The agency filed a supplemental petition pursuant to section 387 on April 4, 2014, seeking to remove Armando from mother's custody. The petition alleged Armando had been diagnosed in February 2014 with a mood disorder and ADHD. Armando was being aggressive, defiant, and sexually inappropriate at school, becoming a danger to himself and others. Although mother and the social worker were working with Aspiranet Wraparound Services, Armando was not responding adequately to interventions and therapeutic work provided by the program. Mother informed the social worker Armando was refusing to take his medication, he had gained a great deal of weight, and he was hoarding food in his bedroom.

         The agency sought a change of placement from mother to the agency. Armando was placed in a group home. After continuances, the joint jurisdiction/disposition hearing on the supplemental petition was conducted on June 4, 2014. The agency reported father had made progress in his case plan and had maintained sobriety. Father completed training and had negative drug tests. Mother was also making progress in her case plan services, but Armando was not responding well after receiving those services.

         Mother made efforts to provide additional supervision of Armando by staying home full time, but Armando refused to follow his mother's redirection. Armando's [204 Cal.Rptr.3d 863] physician believed Armando's challenges were not the ...

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