Skip to content
Name: In re Molly T.
Case #: E069626
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 09/24/2018
Summary

Mother’s conduct of abandoning minor at the hospital and not contacting social workers or appearing at hearings was sufficiently egregious to warrant application of the disentitlement doctrine. At the time mother gave birth to the minor, both she and the minor tested positive for amphetamines. Mother said she could not care for the minor and left the hospital. A juvenile dependency petition was filed which alleged that mother’s whereabouts were unknown. The court ordered the minor removed from mother. Mother failed to attend any hearings. At the disposition hearing, the court ordered reunification services over mother’s objection. Mother contended on appeal that her whereabouts were unknown on the date of the dispositional hearing, and therefore the court abused its discretion by commencing reunification services rather than withholding them under section 361.5(b). She argued that the court’s action prejudiced her ability to actually receive reunification services. The Agency contended that mother’s contention was without merit because the dependency court lacked evidence that mother’s whereabouts were unknown. It further argued that any error was harmless, and that the disentitlement doctrine required dismissal of mother’s appeal. The appellate court agreed that the disentitlement doctrine applied. Mother abandoned her child at the hospital without establishing any means by which the Agency could work with her towards family reunification. The Agency made numerous attempts to locate mother. She failed to appear at any of the hearings. Her conduct was sufficiently egregious to warrant application of the doctrine of disentitlement and dismissal of her appeal. However, the court addressed the issue of whether the juvenile court abused its discretion by commencing reunification services rather than withholding them under section 361.5(b)(1). It found that the juvenile court had no proof a reasonably diligent search had failed to locate mother. Under these circumstances, the court could reasonably have concluded mother was aware of the dependency proceedings and was evading the Agency. Since there was insufficient evidence that mother’s whereabouts were unknown, the court did not abuse its discretion by commencing services. The court also rejected mother’s argument that the court’s decision to commence reunification services was contrary to the intent of section 361.5 which is to promote family reunification. The court reasonably concluded there was insufficient evidence that mother’s whereabouts were unknown, and ordered services for her. Further, if there was any error it was harmless. Had reunification services been denied, the burden would have shifted to mother to show that termination of parental rights was not in the minor’s best interest.