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Name: A.H. v. Superior Court
Case #: G061648
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 03/17/2023

The juvenile court properly found temporary emergency jurisdiction over the minors pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Three minors were detained when police observed signs of physical abuse on them. Mother and stepfather, who was the biological father of the youngest minor, were arrested. The family had recently relocated to the area from Texas and were living in a motel. The father of the older two children was incarcerated in Texas. The juvenile court took emergency jurisdiction pursuant to the UCCJEA. About a week later, the juvenile court contacted the Texas state court, which said that it would waive jurisdiction unless and until the parents returned to Houston. After Mother’s release from jail, she returned to Texas. At the jurisdiction hearing, the juvenile court sustained the allegations. Mother filed a motion to transfer the juvenile dependency case to Texas. The juvenile court found that Texas had ceded jurisdiction to the California juvenile court. Father appealed with Mother joining his arguments, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. California has temporary emergency jurisdiction if the child is present in this state and has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child is subjected to mistreatment or abuse. An emergency exists when there is an immediate risk of danger to the child if he or she is returned to a parent. An evidentiary hearing, such as a detention hearing, that substantially complies with the essential procedural requirements of the UCCJEA is adequate to sustain temporary emergency jurisdiction. Here, Mother and stepfather were arrested for abusing the minors. Shortly thereafter, a detention hearing was held at which Mother and stepfather were present remotely and were appointed counsel. This substantially complied with the procedural requirements of the UCCJEA and thus, the juvenile court properly took emergency jurisdiction.

The California juvenile court had subject matter jurisdiction over the minors because their home state ceded jurisdiction. After Mother filed a motion to transfer the juvenile dependency case to Texas, the juvenile court conducted a UCCJEA follow-up hearing with all the parties and the Texas court present. The Texas court opined that Texas had jurisdiction over the minors because it had ceded only emergency jurisdiction. Despite that opinion, the juvenile court found that Texas had ceded actual jurisdiction. If a California court has exercised temporary emergency jurisdiction, that court may not address the merits of the dependency petition until it properly asserts jurisdiction under the nonemergency jurisdiction provisions of the UCCJEA. A court may assert nonemergency subject matter when California is not the child’s home state, but all courts having either home state jurisdiction or significant connections jurisdiction decline to assert jurisdiction. The general rule of the UCCJEA is that once the court of an appropriate state has made an initial child custody determination, that court obtains exclusive, continuing subject matter jurisdiction over the child. Under the UCCJEA, there cannot be concurrent jurisdiction; only one state can have jurisdiction at a time. Here, Texas was the children’s home state. When the California juvenile court judge spoke with the judge in Texas, that court indicated it would waive jurisdiction unless and until parents returned to Houston. Although the Texas court purported to cede jurisdiction only so long as the parents remained in California, that equivocation was not legally tenable, so the choice not to exercise jurisdiction ceded jurisdiction. Thus, California retains exclusive, continuing subject matter jurisdiction until it cedes jurisdiction back to Texas. The Texas court’s legal opinion as to the general question of existing UCCJEA jurisdiction was not binding upon the California juvenile court. Thus, the juvenile court properly found that California had exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over the minors under the UCCJEA.