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Name: In re M.M.
Case #: C075687
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 03/11/2015
Summary

A prospective adoptive parent is entitled to notice and a hearing prior to removal of the minor and placement with a relative. The minor was placed with appellant, the de facto parent, within a month of her birth, and had lived there 14 months at the time of the 366.26 hearing. The report prepared for the hearing noted that appellant had expressed her desire to adopt the minor and had begun the adoption homestudy. An aunt had also expressed a desire to adopt the minor, but the kinship unit had not completed the relative assessment. The report did not recommend one placement over the other, or signal that DHHS was seeking to move the minor. At the 366.26 hearing, the court ordered the minor placed with the aunt. On appeal, appellant contended that because she qualified as a prospective adoptive parent, she was entitled to notice and a hearing before the minor was removed from her home and placed with the aunt. She also argued that the juvenile court abused its discretion in entering the placement order without hearing evidence regarding the minor’s best interests, and relying solely on relative preference. The appellate court agreed with appellant and reversed. The Department is required to notify a prospective adoptive parent or current caretaker who meets the criteria to be a prospective adoptive parent, prior to a change in a minor’s placement. Here, appellant was qualified to be the prospective adoptive parent at the time DHHS made the decision to seek the change in placement. Therefore, she was entitled to notice and an opportunity for a hearing. Further, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the minor’s removal from her stable home was in her best interest.