(1) Is an appeal of a juvenile court’s jurisdictional finding moot when a parent asserts that he or she has been or will be stigmatized by the finding? (2) Is an appeal of a juvenile court’s jurisdictional finding moot when a parent asserts that he or she may be barred from challenging a current or future placement on the Child Abuse Central Index as a result of the finding?
This case includes the following issue: Was the appeal from the order sustaining jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b), moot when jurisdiction had been terminated in the interim, even though the child’s parents might be registered on the Child Abuse Central Index?
Father’s appeal is moot because his claim that he may be included on the California Child Abuse Central Index (CACI) is too speculative to demonstrate a specific legal consequence that a favorable judgment could redress. The minor had a healing rib fracture the parents could not explain. A petition was filed alleging that minor and his sister were at risk of neglect. The juvenile court found true a section 300, subdivision (b)(1) petition. The parents challenged the jurisdictional findings on appeal. While the appeal was pending, the juvenile court terminated jurisdiction, finding that the parents had complied with their case plan and the minor was no longer at risk. The Court of Appeal dismissed the parents’ appeal as moot. On review, the California Supreme Court reversed the judgment and remanded for the Court of Appeal to reconsider whether discretionary review was warranted. A reviewing court must decide on a case-by-case basis whether subsequent events in a juvenile dependency matter make a case moot. To show a need for effective relief, a plaintiff must first demonstrate that he or she has suffered from a change in legal status. Stigma alone is insufficient; it must be paired with some effect on the plaintiff’s legal status that is capable of being redressed by a favorable court decision. Father’s contention that the appeal is not moot because the jurisdictional finding is stigmatizing and may result in his inclusion on the CACI is not a sufficiently tangible legal or practical consequence. While inclusion on the CACI carries several consequences, Father failed to show that the general neglect allegation which was found true was included in the CACI because this type of allegation is not necessarily reportable. While allegations of severe neglect must be forwarded to CACI, general neglect does not. The Agency submitted a sworn declaration that the allegation at issue was not reported to CACI. Thus, Father’s claim that he may be reported to CACI in the future is too speculative to demonstrate a specific legal consequences that a favorable judgment could redress.
The Court of Appeal erred when it applied an improper analysis as to whether to consider Father’s appeal, despite mootness. The Court of Appeal had concluded that discretionary review is only appropriate when the parent has demonstrated a specific legal or practical negative consequences that will result from jurisdictional findings they seek to reverse. This was error. When a parent has not made such a showing, the case is moot, but the court nevertheless has discretion to decide the merits. The availability of such discretion is particularly important in the dependency context, because many features common to dependency proceedings tend to render parents’ appeals moot. Notwithstanding mootness, there are a variety of factors courts may consider, such as: (1) whether the challenged jurisdictional finding could be prejudicial to the appellant or could potentially impact the current or future dependency proceedings or could have other consequences for the appellant beyond jurisdiction; (2) whether the jurisdictional finding is based on particularly pernicious or stigmatizing conduct; and (3) why the appeal became moot. Where, as here, the case becomes moot due to prompt compliance by parents with their case plan, discretionary review may be especially appropriate to avoid the perverse incentive of noncompliance to avoid mootness. Ultimately in deciding whether to exercise its discretion, a court should be guided by the overarching goals of the dependency system to provide maximum safety, protection, and physical and emotional well-being of the child with a focus on the preservation of the family. The dismissal is reversed and remanded for the Court of Appeal to reconsider Father’s argument that discretionary review is warranted in light of the principles and factors discussed in the opinion.
This case was decided on 1/19/2023.
Review on this issue was also granted with briefing deferred in:
- In re M.K. (July 15, 2021, B307066) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 10/20/2021 (S270424)
- In re Destiny V. (Aug. 18, 2021, B308299) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 12/1/2021 (S271084)
- In re N.N. (Aug. 17, 2021, F081725) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 12/1/2021 (S271097)
- In re Casey E. (Jan. 19, 2022, B309348) [dismissal ord.], review granted 4/27/2022 (S273342)
- In re Luke S. (Jan. 14, 2022, B311414) [dismissal ord.], review granted 4/27/2022 (S273262)
- In re Z.T. (A163190) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 7/27/2022 (S274842)
- In re V.G. (B317112) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 10/26/2022 (S276496)