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Name: In re Isabella F.
Case #: A139220
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 05/13/2014

A finding of jurisdiction over the minor must be reversed where it was based on an isolated altercation with her mother and for the purpose of providing mother with beneficial services. Mother had a physical altercation with her 10-year-old daughter, Isabella, before Isabella went to school. Isabella reported that mother hit her in the face, grabbed her by the neck, and locked her in the bathroom. Isabella did not have significant injuries but told a social worker she was afraid of her mother. The school was familiar with Isabella, who was chronically truant. The social worker attempted to speak with mother at school, but mother said Isabella was having a bad tantrum and she had attempted to spank her, but never hit her in the face. The Department filed a dependency petition alleging that Isabella had suffered serious harm from mother’s physical assault. Two weeks later, Isabella was interviewed at school and was doing well. She said that the physical altercation was the first time anything like that had happened. She was seeing a therapist, was not afraid of her mother, but was afraid of being taken from her. Mother, meanwhile, was participating in services and agreed not to use physical punishment. Following a contested hearing, the court sustained the dependency petition, focusing on the benefits of reunification services as opposed to any harm Isabella had suffered. The appellate court here reversed the juvenile court’s orders. The record did not show that Isabella suffered “serious physical harm” or a substantial risk of physical harm. The physical altercation was an isolated incident where the minor was not injured. The primary motivation in declaring jurisdiction appears to have been to offer mother services to assist a family that acknowledged a need for support. This was an insufficient basis upon which to find jurisdiction.