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Name: In re L.M.
Case #: D075120
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 09/12/2019

The juvenile used the proper standard when it found that it would be in the best interest of a 10-month-old child to remove her from her de facto parents and place her with her sister’s adoptive parents. Four years prior to the minor’s birth, her older half-sibling had been placed with Mr. and Mrs. E., and subsequently adopted by them. When the minor was born testing positive for methamphetamine, the E.’s told the Agency they wanted her placed with her half-sibling in their home. Because the E.’s had recently moved to Florida, it took some time for them to be licensed as foster parents. Meanwhile, the minor was placed with Mr. and Mrs. S. The S.’s wanted to adopt the minor, and filed a request to be designated her de facto parents. The minor remained with the S.’s for 11 months, visiting her older half-sibling and the E.’s monthly. Meanwhile, the minor was removed from her mother, reunification services were bypassed, and a 366.26 hearing was set. The S.’s requested to be designated as the prospective adoptive parents. The ruling on termination of parental rights was deferred. Following five days of evidence including expert testimony, the court found that it was in the minor’s best interest to be removed from the S.’s so that she could be placed with the E.’s. Although both sets of parents provided excellent care, the “tipping point” was the relationship between the minor and her older sibling. On appeal, the S.’s asserted that the juvenile court erred by applying the wrong legal standard. They contended that the court first had to determine if it was in the minor’s best interest to be removed from their care, without regard to whether it was in her best interest to be placed with the E.’s. They argued that reversal was required because they provided excellent care and there was no cause for removal. The appellate court rejected the argument and affirmed. The overriding goal in any given case is whether removal from a current placement is in the minor’s best interest. Where, as here, there were two good competing placements, the decision of whether removal is in the minor’s best interest necessarily requires the court to evaluate which placement is best. Here, there was substantial evidence that removal of the minor so that she could be placed with her sibling was in her best interest. Although there was testimony that a change in placement could cause disruption in development, there was also testimony that the minor would not be traumatized, and that growing up with a biological sibling would be a powerful and positive influence on her development. Since substantial evidence supported the court’s finding that removal was in the minor’s best interest, the court did not abuse its discretion.