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Name: In re L.C.
Case #: B322778
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 04/18/2023
Summary

The juvenile court erred by failing to determine if it had jurisdiction over the minors under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The minors were removed from Mother and a dependency action initiated. The whereabouts of the minors’ respective fathers remained unknown throughout the proceedings. Both of the minors were born in Texas, where Mother claimed she had recently fled to escape an abusive relationship. Mother told the Agency she had previously lived in Florida and Arizona and mentioned a prior child welfare case involving the minors in Texas, but assured the Agency that the case had been closed. Neither the Agency nor the juvenile court inquired further into the existence of child welfare proceedings in Texas or carried out the jurisdictional analysis required by the UCCJEA. Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights, and the appellate court conditionally reversed the orders to permit the juvenile court to determine if it had jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. The reviewing court declined to apply the forfeiture doctrine, despite Mother not having raised this issue in the trial court, because where a statute protects the interests of other sovereigns that are separate and distinct from the interests of parents, the parents’ inaction does not constitute a waiver or otherwise preclude appellate review. Where the information before a juvenile court objectively suffices to raise a genuine question about whether another jurisdiction is the child’s home state, a juvenile court must obtain additional information as necessary to make a home state determination. There was evidence in the record that the minors were both born in Texas and lived there until shortly before their removal, raising the question of whether Texas may be their home state. Further, Mother’s statements that the children had been subjects of dependency proceedings in Texas is evidence that further inquiry needed to be made to determine whether California had jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, and the juvenile court’s failure to do so cannot be deemed harmless. [Editor’s Note: Justice Moor wrote a concurring opinion noting that the UCCJEA is significant because the minors’ fathers were never located and there is a potential concern that another state may have had information about the absent fathers or an interest in those fathers’ relationships with the minors.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B322778.PDF