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In re D.R.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

August 30, 2019

In re D.R. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
P.R., Defendant and Appellant. LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,

          APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. DK13555A-B, Kim L. Nguyen, Judge. Reversed and remanded with directions.

          Jesse McGowan, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Mary C. Wickham, County Counsel, Kristine P. Miles, Assistant County Counsel, and Stephanie Jo Reagan, Principal Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          STRATTON, J.


         Father, P.R., appeals the denial of his motion to modify judgment, made pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code Section 388.[1] Father claims the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) failed to give him adequate notice of dependency proceedings involving his two children. DCFS had served him by publication only. The juvenile court found notice through publication was adequate, because DCFS had exercised reasonable due diligence to find him when his whereabouts were unknown. We conclude the court erred in finding reasonable due diligence. We also find the Hague Service Convention applies because Father is a resident of Mexico. The lack of reasonable due diligence and DCFS's failure to comply with the Hague Service Convention warrants reversal of the judgment and remand to the juvenile court.


         A. Prior Dependency Matters

         In July 2001, Father's eldest three children were subjects of dependency petitions. In September 2002, family reunification services were terminated due to the parents' “non-compliance” and in January 2004 the children were placed with maternal grandmother. In April 2009, Father's female companion struck one of the older children on the leg with a belt. In August 2009, due to Father's failure to provide care and supervision for the children, the court ordered permanent placement for two of the older still-minor siblings.

         B. Petition and Detention

         On September 29, 2015, DCFS filed a petition alleging Z.R. and D.R., then ages 4 and 6 respectively, came within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court under section 300. Count (a)(1) of the petition alleged mother burned Z.R. with a hot spoon on the arm and mouth, and also struck Z.R. on the face with a belt. Count (b)(1) of the petition alleged the Z.R. faced substantial risk of suffering serious physical harm because of mother's inability to supervise or protect the child. Count (j)(1) alleged mother's abuse of Z.R. showed there was potential for abuse of Z.R.'s sibling, D.R.

         Mother told DCFS Z.R. and D.R.'s biological Father, P.R., had been deported to Mexico in 2014. P.R. was named as the presumed father on the DCFS petition. This was confirmed at the detention hearing. During the detention hearing on September 29, 2015, the juvenile court removed the children from mother's care and ordered reunification services for her. The court continued the arraignment hearing for Father to October 2015. The court ordered DCFS to follow up on contact information they had for Father and to attempt to retrieve a mailing address for him. At the next hearing, in October, no contact had been made with Father and the hearing was continued to January 2016.

         C. Combined Jurisdictional and Disposition Hearing January 7, 2016

         At the combined jurisdictional and disposition hearing, the court found DCFS had shown “due diligence” in attempting to find Father, whose whereabouts were still unknown. The court found notice had been given as mandated by law. The court then declared Z.R. and D.R. dependent children under sections 300(a)(b) and 300(a)(b)(j), respectively, and removed them from mother's custody. The court also limited mother's right to make educational decisions. Even though the court had just made a due diligence finding, the court continued the disposition hearing as to Father, directing DCFS to follow up on his telephone number in Mexico and on the “Facebook information, ” referring to information obtained from adult son Joel about Father's Facebook account.

         D. Father's Disposition Hearing February 23, 2016

         The dependency investigator “followed up” with Z.R. and D.R.'s older half-sibling Joel. Joel told the investigator he had had no contact with Father for “about 4-5 months” and the last contact he had was through Facebook. Joel also reported relatives in Riverside had told him they did not have any information as to Father's whereabouts. The investigator conducted a Facebook search with the “available information, ” that is, Father's name and birthdate, and was unable to accurately identify Father's Facebook profile because there were “too many [people with the name ‘P.R.'] to identify.” The investigator also talked to a staff member at Joel's group home who stated Joel had reported no contact with Father. At the continued hearing the court ordered that Z.R. and D.R. remain dependents, ordered no reunification services for Father, and permitted only monitored visitation if and when Father made contact with DCFS.

         E. Twelve-Month Status Review ...

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