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Name: In re M.A.
Case #: E067604
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 02/26/2018

Collateral estoppel barred finding that biological father was a Kelsey S. father where juvenile court had found otherwise five years earlier. The juvenile court found 300(a)(b) and (j) petitions true, and removed M.A. and E.A. from mother. The court ordered the minors placed with Stepfather, who was a nonoffending, noncustodial, presumed father. The juvenile court also found E.A.’s biological father (Bio Father) a Kelsey S. father and ordered the minor to have visits with him. On appeal, mother and Stepfather argued that the court’s finding that Bio Father was a Kelsey S. father was barred by collateral estoppel because the family court ruled on Bio Father’s paternity in 2012. The appellate court agreed and reversed the finding that Bio Father was a Kelsey S. father. Collateral estoppel applies to paternity proceedings and all five factors of collateral estoppel were met. Both the current and former proceedings concerned Bio Father’s status as a presumed father, it was litigated in 2012, a final judgment on the merits was issued in 2012, and Bio Father was a party in both proceedings. Therefore the juvenile court’s paternity finding is barred by collateral estoppel. Since Bio Father did not have a claim to parentage, there were only two people with a claim to parentage and the three-parent law was inapplicable. Mother and Father also contended that substantial evidence did not support the finding that Bio Father was a Kelsey S. father. The appellate court found this issue moot because the Kelsey S. ruling was barred by collateral estoppel. If it had not been moot, the argument would prevail. Bio Father demonstrated a willingness to assume full custody of the minor and mother thwarted his efforts. Mother also contended that the juvenile court erred by granting Bio Father visitation with the minor. The appellate court rejected that argument. Circumstances had changed from the time of the family court’s previous no contact order. Bio Father appeared to be committed to the minor and wanted to be part of her life. The social worker opined that it was beneficial for children to know their biological parents. The juvenile court could reasonably conclude that the minor would benefit from visitation with Bio Father because the minor needed more loving relationships in her life. Finally, the court also held that the juvenile court did not err by not terminating jurisdiction because the evidence supported a conclusion that there was a need for ongoing supervision, given the risks facing the minor while in Stepfather’s care.