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Name: In re Cody R.
Case #: D073527
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 12/17/2018

Parent had no standing to challenge the social worker’s actions under the relative placement statutes where there was no showing that she could have reunified. The child was removed from parental custody after he was found severely malnourished to the point of starvation. The juvenile court sustained a dependency petition and bypassed reunification services based on a finding of severe physical abuse. It set a hearing under section 366.26. The court did not advise the parents that they could challenge this order only by way of a writ petition, but mother filed a notice of intent to file such a petition. It was later dismissed by the Court of Appeal. After her rights were terminated at the 366.26 hearing, mother appealed, arguing that the social worker had not followed the relative placement preference when several relatives were suggested early in the case. Held: Appeal dismissed. A parent who is not receiving reunification services generally has no standing to challenge the relative placement process. The court rejected mother’s argument that she had standing because she could also challenge the order denying reunification services based upon the failure to properly advise her of her writ rights. The Court of Appeal held that, despite improper legal notice, mother had “actual notice,” which was shown by the fact that she filed the proper paperwork. In addition, mother failed to show any legal harm to her interests. The court held that she could not have reasonably argued for services given the facts of the case, and all other claims were speculative. Thus, she lacked standing to challenge the minor’s placement.

Mother could not challenge the child’s placement by way of a petition for writ of habeas corpus, which, in dependency, is limited to questions of custody and ineffective assistance. In a consolidated proceeding, mother filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus to provide additional information about relatives who were available at the time of the disposition hearing. She sought only to challenge the placement decision and expressly disavowed a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, successfully moving on that basis to strike trial counsel’s declaration. Held: Petition denied. Habeas corpus is an extraordinary and limited remedy. It may be used in non-criminal contexts only to challenge child custody orders and to raise claims of ineffective assistance. The court identified four grounds on which custody may be challenged on habeas, including: to enforce an existing custody order, to protect a child from imminent danger, to challenge an adoption where proper consent was not obtained, and to challenge an order entered without jurisdiction. Mother did not challenge the order on any of those grounds, and instead sought only to buttress her claim that the child had been improperly withheld from a relative placement, which the court declined to expand habeas to include. In addition, mother did not challenge the performance of her trial lawyer, which eliminated the only other possible ground for habeas. The court rejected mother’s claim that habeas could be used simply to present evidence outside the record on appeal to support an argument not raised below. Finally, the court held that mother had an adequate remedy at trial, which was to file a section 388 petition or to seek a hearing directly under the relative placement statute. Habeas could not be used to submit evidence that “could have been, but was not, presented by competent counsel to the juvenile court at the section 366.26 hearing.”