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In re Priscilla A.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, First Division

May 4, 2017

In re PRISCILLA A., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
v.
JUAN A., Defendant and Appellant LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,

         Review granted by, Review pending at, 07/12/2017

         THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA GRANTED REVIEW IN THIS MATTER (see Cal. Rules of Court, rules 8.1105(e)(1)(B), 8.1115(e)) July 12, 2017

          APPEAL from orders of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. DK15337, Julie Fox Blackshaw, Judge.

Page 552

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          COUNSEL

          Linda J. Vogel, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

         Mary C. Wickham, County Counsel, R. Keith Davis, Assistant County Counsel, and Stephen D. Watson, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

         Opinion by Lui, J., with Rothschild, P. J., and Johnson, J., concurring.

          OPINION

          [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 659] LUI, J.

          In this juvenile dependency case, defendant and appellant Juan A. (Father) challenges the juvenile court's jurisdiction and disposition orders. In particular, Father argues the juvenile court erred in exercising dependency jurisdiction over his daughter Priscilla A. (Daughter) because she was not at substantial risk of serious physical harm and, even if she had been, Father neither did nor failed to do anything to cause that risk of harm. Because Daughter was not abused, neglected, or exploited and Father neither did nor failed to do anything to put Daughter at any risk of harm, we conclude dependency jurisdiction was not proper here.

         BACKGROUND

         1. Prepetition Events

         a. Daughter's Difficult Transition from El Salvador

         Daughter arrived in the United States from El Salvador in April 2014, when she was 11½ years old. She came to the United States to live with Father, who wanted Daughter to have better opportunities than those available in her birth country. Upon arrival in the United States, immigration services detained Daughter for two months. She arrived at Father's home in Los Angeles in June 2014.

         Daughter moved in with Father and his family, which included his wife (Stepmother) and four other children, ages one, two, 12 and 17. This was a difficult transition for Daughter. She had a tough time getting along with her new family, especially Stepmother. Daughter did not like doing chores or following the family rules. Daughter often tested and broke the rules and was disrespectful. She did not want to dress modestly. She did not communicate comfortably with Father, did not want to [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 660] eat with the family (despite being asked to do so), did not want Stepmother to drive her to school (despite being offered), and did not tend to her personal hygiene.

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         Nonetheless, Daughter reported feeling safe in Father's home. She knew Father would listen to her if she decided to talk to him. She said, " 'I don't want to [talk to him] but I know he will listen.'" Daughter denied any type of abuse at home.

         Almost everyone interviewed by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (Department), including Daughter herself, indicated that Daughter lied a lot. In fact, the reason the Department filed a petition in this case was based on a story that Daughter later recanted (discussed below). In addition, Daughter told her mother that Father hit her, but later said he never did. She said her brother raped and sexually assaulted her in El Salvador, but later admitted that was not true. She also said she wanted to return to El Salvador, but later said she wanted to stay in the United States and live with her maternal uncle in Texas. It is difficult to tell whether or when Daughter told the truth.

         Father never abused Daughter or any of the other children. Father gave Daughter an allowance and stated he " 'would talk to [Daughter] for hours and try to explain to her right from wrong. I never hit her but I would take things she liked like her computer, TV.'" At one point, in light of Daughter's troubling behavior and at her insistence, Father investigated whether and how Daughter could return legally to her mother in El Salvador. He stated he wanted Daughter either to stay with him or to return to her mother in El Salvador because they are her parents and are responsible for her care. Father believed his problems with Daughter began when he told Daughter her clothes were not appropriate for her age. " 'She doesn't like to be told what to do. She doesn't like to be told to dress modestly.'" Father acknowledged Daughter had behavior problems and that it would take time to build a relationship with her.

         Stepmother never abused her children or Daughter, although she slapped Daughter's face once when Daughter was arguing with her. There were no injuries or marks as a result of that slap. Stepmother reiterated many of the things Father had reported, including that Daughter was disrespectful, did not like the family rules, and did not like being told to dress modestly. Stepmother said she had Daughter's best interests in mind and was concerned for Daughter's safety. Daughter would leave the house early and return late from school. Stepmother stated she tried to explain many things to Daughter when she first arrived in the United States, but Daughter refused to listen. Stepmother acknowledged the difficulties of not being Daughter's biological mother. Stepmother expressed surprise at many of the things Daughter would say and, eventually, Stepmother stopped trying to discipline her. According to Stepmother, Daughter said she hated Stepmother because she had married Father. Stepmother also indicated she believed at times Daughter acted out on

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purpose because she wanted to be sent back to El Salvador. Stepmother explained she and Father had investigated whether and how Daughter could return legally to El Salvador.

         b. October 2015 Referral

         On Monday, October 26, 2015, the Department received a referral alleging Daughter was at risk of abuse from Stepmother and Father. The referring party reported then 13-year-old Daughter was late to school that morning because she had to walk to school and almost passed out from hunger when she arrived. According [217 Cal.Rptr.3d 661] to the referral, Daughter said she had not eaten since Saturday, Stepmother would cook for everyone in the home except for Daughter, and Stepmother would drive the other children to school but made Daughter walk to school. Daughter also said Stepmother hit her on the mouth with a wooden spoon and " busted" her lip. But Daughter indicated the incident had happened a week earlier so her lip injury had healed. Daughter said Father was aware of everything but refused to protect her. The referring party reported Daughter appeared depressed and cried all the time because of the way Stepmother treated her.

         As a result of the October 2015 referral, a Department social worker interviewed Daughter, Father, Stepmother, and other family members. Daughter admitted she had lied about not being fed and being forced to walk to school. She also admitted she lied about Stepmother hitting her in the mouth with a wooden spoon. Instead, both Daughter and Stepmother explained they had been arguing when Stepmother slapped Daughter in the face with her hand and there had been no injury. That was the only time Stepmother hit Daughter. There was no evidence of any type of abuse by anyone. The Department referred Daughter to therapy services and the family to in-home counseling. The Department did not immediately file a petition on Daughter's behalf.

         c. First Involuntary Hospitalization December 20, 2015, ...


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