Department of Children and Families v. H.M.R., 2014 WL 2893281 (Fla. 5th DCA)
The Department of Children and Families appealed the trial court's order denying its second shelter petition regarding E.R., a three week old infant, asserting the trial court applied an incorrect standard in issuing a finding of no probable cause.
Removal of a child and placement in shelter care requires a finding of probable cause to believe the child has been "abused, neglected or abandoned or is suffering from or is in imminent danger of illness or injury as a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment."
Evidence was presented at the shelter hearing that Mother was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and felony child abuse of E.R.'s sibling following an Alford plea, convicted of misdemeanor child abuse to another sibling, and did not have custody of any of E.R's five surviving siblings. The trial court did not appear to believe it could consider Mother's past conduct in determining whether probable cause existed as to E.R. The trial court used the higher standard of clear and convincing evidence, which is required in termination proceedings but not in shelter hearings.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal (Fifth DCA) found that at the shelter stage the department is required to show the probability that the child is in imminent danger of illness or injury as a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment. To establish probable cause necessary to support its petition to shelter three-week-old child, the department was not required to produce clear and convincing evidence, but was merely required to show the probability that the child was in imminent danger of illness or injury as a result of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. F.S.A. R.Juv.P.Rule 8.305(b)(5).
The Fifth DCA found sufficient evidence was presented to the trial court to support a finding that E.R. was in imminent danger and reversed the order denying the second shelter petition.
Read the Opinion
M.G. v. Department of Children and Families, 2014 WL 2968818 (Fla. 5th DCA)
Mother appealed the order of disposition adjudicating her children dependent and relinquishing the court's jurisdiction. The Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed with Mother and found that the trial court committed reversible error in failing to hold a disposition hearing. The matter was remanded for a disposition hearing pursuant to Fla. Statute § 39.521.
Read the Opinion
In the Interest of I.B., 2014 WL 3375933 (Fla. 5th DCA)
The Fifth District Court of Appeal (Fifth DCA) withdrew its previous opinion dated May 9, 2014 following review of a motion for rehearing by the adoption intermediary for the prospective adoptive parents (foster parents). The prospective adoptive parents appealed the trial court's order striking Mother's adoption consent. The Fifth DCA reversed the decision, finding insufficient evidence of duress. The matter was remanded for the trial court to consider any alternative basis for invalidating the adoption consent.
Mother originally informed the trial court that she intended to proceed with a private adoption of her child by a paternal aunt. The child had been placed in foster care with a different individual. At a later time, two of mother's relatives contacted the foster care liaison regarding mother's desire to have the foster parents adopt rather than the paternal aunt. The foster care liaison prepared an adoption consent form, which mother signed on two occasions. Mother and paternal aunt later sought to strike Mother's consent to adoption by the foster parents.
Mother testified that the foster care liaison came to the jail where mother was incarcerated at 10:00 P.M. Mother's attorney was not present and Mother did not know that the liaison was present on behalf of the foster parents. Mother further testified that she was told the adoption would be open but was not told what open adoption meant. Mother testified that no one explained the consent paperwork, provided her a copy, or informed her of right to revoke her consent within three days. This consent was later deemed to be invalid because it was not properly executed. A second consent was provided to Mother. Although her attorney was present for the signing of the second consent, mother was behind glass at the jail and did not speak to anyone regarding the consent. Mother testified that she felt pressured by her family and her attorney to sign the paperwork. Additionally, Mother testified that she would not have signed the consent without a promise of continued contact with her child.
The trial court found that mother did not understand what she was signing, felt pressured to sign the consent and, as a result, her consent was not voluntary.
Pursuant to Fla. Statute § 63.082(7)(f), if the three-day revocation period for consent has passed, consent can only be set aside when the court finds that it was obtained by fraud or duress. The party seeking to set aside the consent, in this matter the paternal aunt, bears the burden of proving duress by clear and convincing evidence.
The Fifth DCA agreed with the foster parents that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of duress. The Fifth DCA remanded the matter to the trial court to determine whether evidence supported striking the consent based upon the impact of any of the procedural violations noted by the trial court. Failure to meet a requirement of the adoption statute does not in and of itself constitutes grounds to strike a consent "unless the extent and circumstances of such a failure result in a material failure of fundamental fairness in the administration of due process, or the failure constitutes or contributes to fraud or duress in obtaining a consent to adoption." Fla. Statute § 63.2325.
The Fifth DCA held that evidence was insufficient to prove duress as a basis to set aside mother's consent to adoption and reversed the trial court's order striking the mother's consent to adoption form.
Read the Opinion
J.O. v. Department of Children and Families, 2014 WL 3534231 (Fla. 5th DCA)
Father appealed the trial court's decision finding his son dependent. Although the Fifth District Court of Appeal (Fifth DCA) affirmed most of the dependency order, the Fifth DCA reversed the portion of the decision that prohibited all contact between Father and son until Father's release from incarceration. All contact, including telephonic, was prohibited by the trial court without any finding to support no contact.
The Fifth DCA remanded that case for further proceedings regarding continued contact between Father and child.
Read the Opinion
J.H. v. Department of Children and Families, 2014 WL 3559381 (Fla. 5th DCA)
The Department of Children and Families appealed denial of its petition for termination of parental rights. The Fifth District Court of Appeal (Fifth DCA) affirmed the trial court's decision but issued its opinion without prejudice, specifically granting the Department permission to refile for termination of parental rights if Father is sentenced to a significant prison sentence for his pending criminal charges.
The Fifth DCA noted that a significant prison sentence would require the trial court to determine whether termination of parental rights is the "least restrictive means to protect the child." The least restrictive means test is properly utilized when a lack of meaningful relationship between the parent and the child is caused by the parent's criminal background.
Read the Opinion
H.C. v. Department of Children and Families, 2014 WL 3805524 (Fla. 5th DCA)
The mother appeals the final order entered by the trial court denying her motion to re-open her children's dependency case in order to modify the trial court's previously entered order placing children in permanent guardianship with their paternal grandparents.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order because, contrary to the mother's claim otherwise, it is the parent's burden of proving that the safety, well-being, and physical, mental, and emotional health of the child(ren) would not be endangered by reunification; the Department of Children and Families has no burden of proof in reunification proceedings.
Read the Opinion