May 24, 2018

Income Eligibility Guidelines Updated; Several CJDs Affected

On Thursday, February 22, 2018, the Colorado State Judicial Branch released revisions to the Income Eligibility Guidelines. Several Chief Justice Directives were affected by these revisions:

  • CJD 98-01 – “Costs for Indigent Persons in Civil Matters”
  • CJD 04-04 – “Appointment of State-Funded Counsel in Criminal Cases and for Contempt of Court”
  • CJD 04-05 – “Appointment and Payment Procedures for Court-appointed Counsel, Guardians ad litem, Child and Family Investigators, and Court Visitors paid by the Judicial Department in proceedings under Titles 12, 13, 14, 15, 19 (special respondents in dependency and neglect only), 22, 25.5, and 27, C.R.S.”
  • CJD 04-06 – “Court Appointments Through the Office of the Child’s Representative”
  • CJD 14-01 – “Appointment of State-Funded Counsel in Juvenile Delinquency Cases”
  • CJD 16-02 – “Court Appointments Through the Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel”

All of the Colorado Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Directives can be accessed here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Foster Parents Lacked Standing to Challenge District Court Denial of Parental Rights Termination

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.W.B., Jr. on Monday, February 5, 2018.

Children’s Code—Dependency or Neglect Proceedings—Standing on Appeal.

The Colorado Supreme Court reviewed whether the foster parents in this case had standing to appeal the trial court’s denial of a motion to terminate the parent–child legal relationship. The foster parents intervened in the trial court proceedings pursuant to C.R.S. § 19-3-507(5)(a) and participated in a hearing on the guardian ad litem’s (GAL) motion to terminate the parent-child legal relationship between the mother and the child. The trial court denied the motion. Neither the state nor the GAL appealed the trial court’s ruling, but the foster parents did. The court of appeals concluded that the foster parents had standing to appeal the trial court’s ruling.

The supreme court concluded that the foster parents in this case did not have a legally protected interest in the outcome of termination proceedings, and that C.R.S. § 19-3-507(5)(a) did not automatically confer standing on them to appeal the juvenile court’s order denying the termination motion, where neither the Department of Social Services nor the GAL sought review of the trial court’s ruling. Because the GAL was statutorily obligated to advocate for the best interests of the child, including on appeal, there was no need to confer standing on the foster parents to represent the best interests of the child on appeal. The court therefore reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the appeal.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Order Dismissing Dependency and Neglect Proceeding Not Final, Appealable Order

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of M.R.M. on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Dependency and Neglect—Final and Appealable Order—Lack of Jurisdiction.

The Garfield County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect, naming mother and M.M. (father of two children and stepfather to the third, M.A.M.) as respondents. The children were initially placed with their maternal grandmother, but then M.M. moved from Florida to Colorado and sought custody of all three children. The children were placed with him under the protective supervision of the Department. The court adjudicated the three children dependent and neglected with respect to mother. The court adopted treatment plans for mother and M.M., but shortly thereafter he moved to modify the order under which he shared custody of the children with mother and to dismiss the dependency and neglect case. M.M. shared custody of the two older children with mother under a domestic relations order and asserted he should have custody of M.A.M. as her psychological parent. The juvenile court entered an order allocating parental responsibilities for the children between M.M. and mother (the APR order). The court concluded it had jurisdiction to allocate parental responsibilities as to M.A.M. pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-123(1)(d), which provides that a proceeding concerning allocation of parental responsibilities may be commenced by someone other than a parent who has been allocated parental responsibilities through a juvenile court order. Approximately two weeks later, the court entered an order terminating its jurisdiction and closing the case, from which order mother appealed.

The Colorado Court of Appeals requested supplemental briefs addressing whether mother’s appeal was timely and determined that the appealable order was the APR order. C.R.S. § 19-1-104(6) provides that entry of an order allocating parental responsibilities for a child who is the subject of a dependency and neglect proceeding requested by a party to the case, once filed in the county where the child will permanently reside, will be treated as any other decree in a proceeding allocating parental responsibilities. This action ends the dependency and neglect proceeding and transfers jurisdiction over the child to the district court. Such an order is final and appealable, and a party who wishes to appeal must file a notice of appeal within 21 days of entry of the order. Here, the juvenile court entered an APR order and ordered that it be certified into an existing custody proceeding in the district court as to M.M.’s children, and certified into a new domestic relations case as to M.A.M. Mother did not appeal from that order but rather appealed from the order purportedly terminating its jurisdiction and closing the dependency and neglect case. Mother’s appeal was untimely, and the court lacked jurisdiction to hear it.

However, mother argued the APR order wasn’t a final, appealable order because the juvenile court didn’t have jurisdiction to make the findings needed to grant APR to a nonparent. She contended that because the court did not adjudicate M.A.M. dependent and neglected with respect to her biological father, and the adjudication of the two older children with respect to father M.M. was still in “deferred” status, the APR order was invalid. The court rejected this argument, reasoning that the question was not whether the court had jurisdiction to enter the order, but whether it was final and appealable. The APR order here was final and appealable

Similarly, because mother failed to timely appeal the APR order, the court rejected mother’s argument that because the court failed to commence a paternity action it did not have independent jurisdiction under the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) to enter an order allocating parental responsibilities.

Finally, mother argued the APR order was not a final, appealable order because it did not fully resolve the right and liabilities of the parties as to paternity, support, and parental responsibilities with respect to M.A.M. Analyzing the issue under the UPA, the court concluded there was no need for a paternity proceeding as to M.A.M. The court rejected mother’s argument that the APR order did not fully resolve the rights and liabilities of the parties because it didn’t find anything else that needed to be resolved; the order addressed visitation, parenting time, and other matters relevant to the allocation or parental responsibilities between mother and M.M.

Mother also argued that the APR order was not final because it was subject to revision. Once it was entered and certified to the district court, jurisdiction to modify it was transferred to the district court, leaving nothing for the juvenile court to do. The court further noted that all orders concerning parenting time and decision-making responsibility may be modified when circumstances warrant a change.

Mother also raised an issue about noncompliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. The court declined to address this because it lacked jurisdiction due to the untimeliness of the appeal.

The appeal was dismissed with prejudice for lack of an appealable order.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Juvenile Court Did Not Err in Failing to Make Written Finding of Dependency & Neglect

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People in Interest of J.W. on Monday, December 11, 2017.

Children’s Code—Dependency or Neglect Proceedings—Jurisdiction.

The supreme court reviewed whether a juvenile court validly terminated a mother’s parent-child legal relationship without first entering a formal written order adjudicating her children as dependent or neglected. The juvenile court accepted mother’s admission that her children were neglected or dependent, but did not enter a formal order adjudicating the children’s status as to mother before it terminated mother’s parental rights approximately a year later. The court of appeals held that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to terminate mother’s parental rights because it had not entered an order adjudicating the children’s status as dependent or neglected.

The supreme court held that the juvenile court’s acceptance of mother’s admission established the children’s status as dependent or neglected, thus fulfilling the purpose of the adjudicative process and permitting state intervention into the familial relationship. The juvenile court’s failure to enter an adjudicative order confirming the children’s status did not divest the juvenile court of jurisdiction to terminate mother’s parental rights in this case, nor did it impair the fundamental fairness of the proceedings or deprive the mother of due process under the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, the court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case to the court of appeals to consider mother’s other contentions on appeal.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Gives: Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center Compassionately Transforms the Lives of Abused and Neglected Children

Colorado Gives: CBA CLE Legal Connection is focusing on several legal charities in honor of Colorado Gives Day, December 5, 2017. These charities, and many, many others, greatly appreciate your donations of time and money.

childrens-law-center-logo-gFor over thirty-five years, the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center has provided compassionate legal advocacy and clinical services to children who have been abused or neglected. Through a team of legal professionals and social workers, the Children’s Law Center serves at-risk children and considers the whole child with each recommendation regarding the child’s best interest.

The Children’s Law Center also works for public policy change, working to make children a political priority at the local, state, and national levels. The Children’s Law Center has made great progress in this area. They created the first Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman Program, promoted a 2013 Senate Bill to reduce the number of child abuse fatalities in the state, promoted a 2013 House Bill to streamline the process to report child abuse, and much more.

The Children’s Law Center has several programs devoted to legal advocacy for children. The Education Program promotes the adoption of policies and procedures in the schools and legislature to recognize the impact of trauma on children’s learning behaviors, reduce school transfers for children in the child protection system, and redirect children in the school disciplinary system from the school-to-prison pipeline. The Children’s Law Center also has a caregiver advocacy program, a domestic violence program, a trauma-informed yoga program, and a therapeutic garden.

The Children’s Law Center relies on donations to continue providing compassionate legal advocacy to abused, neglected, and at-risk children. Their annual operating expenses total over one million dollars per year. Donate on Colorado Gives Day by clicking here or any day by filling out the form on this webpage.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Fault-Based Grounds for Dependency and Neglect Must Be Proved as to Each Parent

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of M.M. and P.M. III on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—No Fault—Summary Judgment.

The Fremont County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a dependency and neglect petition concerning M.M. and P.M. III. Mother admitted that the children were dependent and neglected. Although father did not dispute that the children were in an injurious environment and were without proper parental care through no fault of a parent, he denied the allegations in the petition against him and requested an adjudicatory trial before a jury. The Department moved to adjudicate the children dependent and neglected by summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment and adjudicated the children dependent and neglected.

On appeal, father asserted that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. He contended that the facts concerning him were disputed, the remaining undisputed facts concerned only mother, and the children could not be adjudicated dependent and neglected simply because the Department established that mother was a danger to the children. There are four statutory grounds for adjudication, two of which require a showing of fault as to each parent. The undisputed facts established that, with respect to the “no-fault” grounds, C.R.S. § 19-3-102(1)(c) and (e), the children were dependent and neglected and the trial court properly granted summary judgment on those statutory grounds. With respect to C.R.S. § 19-3-102(1)(a) and (b), however, the material facts concerning father’s conduct were disputed and thus the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on those grounds.

The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part. The case was remanded for the trial court to amend the order of adjudication to reflect that the children were adjudicated dependent and neglected only under C.R.S. § 19-3-102(1)(c) and (e).

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Expert Witness Need Not Recite Exact Statutory Language for ICWA Finding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of D.B. on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—Indian Child Welfare Act—Termination—Expert Witness—Hearsay.

This dependency and neglect proceeding was governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Mother’s parental rights were terminated after the trial court determined that continued custody of the child by one of the parents would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child due to the parents’ extensive substance abuse, extensive domestic violence, lack of housing, and lack of income to meet the child’s needs.

On appeal, mother contended that the trial court erred in terminating her parental rights without testimony from a qualified expert witness that her continued custody of the child would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child, as required by the ICWA. The ICWA provides that a court may only terminate parental rights if it determines that there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the child is likely to suffer serious emotional or physical damage if the child remains in the parent’s care. Such determination must be supported by evidence that includes testimony from qualified expert witnesses. The statute does not mandate, however, that an expert witness specifically opine that the child is likely to suffer emotional or physical damage in the parent’s custody. Rather, the expert testimony must constitute some of the evidence that supports the court’s finding of the likelihood of serious emotional or physical damage to the child. Here, although the expert witness’s testimony did not track the ICWA language, the record as a whole contains sufficient evidence, including testimony from a qualified expert witness, to support the trial court’s determination that the child would likely suffer serious emotional or physical damage if placed in mother’s care.

Mother also contended that the trial court erred in relying on inadmissible hearsay statements in the termination report to conclude that she had failed to maintain sobriety and that the child would thus likely suffer serious emotional or physical damage if he remained in her custody. The trial court, however, had access to other admissible evidence to support its determination that mother had failed to maintain sobriety. Further, this was not the sole basis to terminate mother’s parental rights.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Must Make Inquiry Into Whether Indian Child Welfare Act Applies in Dependency and Neglect Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.A. on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—Termination of Parental Rights—Indian Child Welfare Act Inquiry Provisions.

The Montrose Department of Health and Human Services (Department) initiated a dependency and neglect petition on behalf of C.A. At the initial hearing, the trial court asked the parties generally if the child was a Native American and if the child had any Native American heritage. Father said he did not, and mother offered no response. Father and mother were not represented by counsel at this time. The Department ultimately moved to terminate mother’s and father’s parental rights. The Department’s motion did not state the efforts the Department made to determine if C.A. is an Indian child and the trial court did not inquire on the record whether the child is an Indian child. Following a contested hearing, the trial court terminated parental rights and determined that the child was not subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

On appeal, mother contended that the trial court did not comply with the ICWA’s inquiry provisions. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that when a trial court inquires at an initial temporary custody hearing at the commencement of a dependency and neglect proceeding whether there is a reason to know that a child is an Indian child, it must make another inquiry when termination is sought, at least when the court has not already identified the child as an Indian child and the petitioning party has not disclosed what efforts it has made to determine if the child is an Indian child.

Because the record did not show that the trial court made the proper inquiry at the termination proceeding, the case was remanded for the limited purpose of making the ICWA inquiry. The trial court was further directed to make appropriate findings and proceed accordingly with any actions necessary to comply with ICWA. In addition, court of appeals gave the parties detailed directions to take further actions, based on the trial court’s determination, within a specified timeframe.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

JDF Instruction Forms, Motion to Seal Criminal Records, and More Amended in September

The Colorado State Judicial Branch revised 19 JDF forms in September 2017. Most of the revised forms are instructions, but there were a few additional forms amended as well. PDFs of the revised forms are available here, and Word versions of the non-instruction forms are available on the State Judicial forms page.

DOMESTIC RELATIONS

  • JDF 1099 – “Instructions to File for a Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation if There Are No Children of This Marriage or the Children are Emancipated” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1100 – “Instructions to File Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation with Children of This Marriage” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1266 – “Instructions to File for a Dissolution or Legal Separation of Civil Union if There Are No Children of the Civil Union or the Children are Emancipated” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1267 – “Instructions to File for a Dissolution or Legal Separation of Civil Union with Children of This Civil Union” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1268 – “Instructions to File for a Declaration of Invalidity of Civil Union (Annulment)” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1399 – “Instructions to File a Motion or Stipulation to Modify or Terminate Maintenace (Spousal/Partner Support)” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1400 – “Instructions to File a Motion or Stipulation to Relocate Minor Children” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1403I – “Instructions to File a Motion or Stipulation to Modify Child Support” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1406I – “Instructions to File a Motion/Stipulation to Modify/Restrict Parenting Time” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1411 – “Instructions to File a Motion or Stipulation to Modify Custody or Decision-Making Responsibility” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1413 – “Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1413I – “Instructions for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1524 – “Instructions to File a Motion to Modify or Set Aside Parentage” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1600 – “Instructions to File for a Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage (Annulment)” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 1800 – “Instructions/Options to Enforce Orders” (revised 9/17)

CRIMINAL

  • JDF 476 – “Instructions to Discontinue Sex Offender Registration for a Colorado and Non-Colorado Juvenile Adjudication or Disposition” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 477 – “Motion to Seal Criminal Justice Records Pursuant to § 24-72-702.5, C.R.S.” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 478 – “Order to Seal Criminal Justice Records Pursuant to § 24-72-702.5, C.R.S.” (revised 9/17)
  • JDF 611 – “Instructions to File a Petition to Seal Criminal Conviction Records Involving Controlled Substances and Petty Offenses and Municipal Violations” (revised 9/17)

For all of State Judicial’s JDF forms, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Social Workers Held to Have Qualified Immunity on Foster Child’s Special-Relationship Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Dahn v. Amedei on Monday, August 14, 2017.

This case concerns an exception to the general rule that states are not liable for harm caused by private actors. This exception, called the special-relationship doctrine, makes a state or its agents liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failing to protect people from harm if they have deprived those people of liberty and made them completely dependent on the state for their basic needs. In this case, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided whether the geographical reach of the special-relationship doctrine crosses state lines.

A foster child, James Dahn, sued two Colorado social workers responsible for investigating reports that he was being abused. Dahn had been in Oklahoma’s custody until, in 2008, a Colorado adoption agency (Adoption Alliance) placed him for adoption with a foster father, Jeremiah Lovato, in Colorado. The foster father physically abused Dahn before and after adopting him. Many reports of suspicious abuse were reported to employees of the Moffat County Department of Social Services, Audrey Amedei and Amanda Cramer. Amedei and Cramer responded to the reports from Dahn’s school regarding Dahn’s suspicious bruising and significant, twenty-eight-pound weight loss, by interviewing Dahn and speaking with Lovato, via telephone. The reports of abuse were then determined to be unfounded. After further reports of suspicious bruising, Cramer chose not to speak with Dahn or Lovato, but instead called Vicki little, an independent contractor hired by Adoption Alliance to act as Dahn’s caseworker. Little visited the home, only speaking with Dahn alone for a few minutes, and shrugged off the concerns, determining Dahn was doing well. After two more visits where Little failed to speak to Dahn alone, she recommended that Lovato be allowed to adopt Dahn.

In 2010, the physical abuse from Lovato had escalated to the point where Dahn had to protect himself by running away. Dahn was taken to the hospital, where it was discovered that Lovato had broken Dahn’s arm months earlier, there was still ongoing abuse resulting in bruising, internal injuries, and bleeding, as well as open lesions. Lovato was tried and convicted of criminal child abuse in Colorado and sentenced to 119 ½ years-to-life in prison.

In 2013, Dahn sued Adoption Alliance, Little, Tem (Little’s supervisor), Amedei, and Cramer for his injuries. Dahn alleged (1) all defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights, under a special-relationship theory; (2) all defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights, under a state-created-danger theory; and (3) that defendants Adoption Alliance, Tem, and Amedei failed to properly train and supervise their employees in evaluating, monitoring, and investigating the prospective adoptive placement for abuse, resulting in violations of Dahn’s Fourteenth Amendment substantive-due-process rights. Dahn also brought state-law claims for negligence and outrageous conduct against all defendants. The issue decided by the Circuit was whether the district court erred in concluding that Amedei and Cramer had a special relationship with Dahn, and whether the law on this issue was clearly established.

Due process claims built on the special-relationship doctrine have four elements. First, the plaintiff must demonstrate the existence of a special relationship, meaning that the plaintiff completely depended on the state to satisfy basic human needs. Second, the plaintiff must show that the defendant knew that the plaintiff was in danger or failed to exercise professional judgment regarding that danger. Third, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s injuries. And, fourth, the defendant’s actions must shock the conscience. The question the Circuit decided was whether a foster child in the custody of one state can, after being placed by a private adoption agency with a foster father in a different state, establish a special custodial relationship with that second state when the second state takes on the duties to investigate evidence suggesting abuse.

The Tenth Circuit found that the law does not clearly extend constitutional liability under the special-relationship doctrine to employees of a state that did not deprive Dahn of his liberty or supply his basic needs, even though they were social workers in the county where he resided. Although the Circuit stated that Amedei and Cramer owed some duty to Dahn, as they investigated the suspected abuse but failed to take any action to remove Dahn from Lovato’s custody, the court found that Dahn had failed to show clearly established law that created a special-relationship between him, Amedei, and Cramer. This conclusion comes from a previous case which noted that the affirmative duty to protect arises not from the state’s knowledge of the individual’s predicament or from its expressions of intent to help him, but from the limitations which it has imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf. Because the state had not deprived the child of his liberty, it did not have a custodial relationship with him that required the state to protect him from harm. The Circuit declined to address the other element of his claim, which is whether Amedei and Cramer acted in an unprofessional and conscience-shocking manner.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals REVERSED the district court’s order denying Amedei and Cramer’s motion to dismiss Dahn’s special-relationship claim against them, and REMANDED for further proceedings.

Celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center on October 20

On Friday, October 20, 2017, the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center will host a celebratory gala in honor of its 35th anniversary. The Legacy Gala will feature a presentation by former Denver Broncos running back Reggie Rivers. There will also be an awards ceremony, a live auction, and a silent auction, in addition to dinner and cocktails. Sponsorship opportunities are available for the Legacy Gala, and the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center is accepting donations for the silent auction as well. To register for the event or to learn more about sponsorship, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Payment Obligation Under Marital Agreement Terminates at Death of Either Party

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Williams on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Dissolution of Marriage—Premarital Agreement—Separation Agreement—Maintenance—Estate.

Husband and wife executed a premarital agreement providing that husband would pay wife “during her lifetime” and wife would be entitled to receive from husband “during her lifetime” monthly payments on the filing of a petition for dissolution. In exchange for the monthly payments, wife waived maintenance. Husband and wife’s marriage ended in 1996, and husband consistently made monthly payments to wife under their separation agreement until his death. When husband’s estate refused to continue making the payments, wife filed the underlying action. The district court ruled that the premarital and separation agreements obligated the estate to continue making the monthly payments to wife until her death or remarriage. The court also awarded wife attorney fees and costs under the prevailing party provisions of the agreements.

On appeal, the estate contended that the district court erred in ruling that husband’s obligation under the premarital and separation agreements to make monthly payments to wife survived his death as an obligation of his estate. The premarital and separation agreements reflect agreement regarding the duration of the monthly payments relative to the life or marital status of the wife, but say nothing about what would happen on husband’s death. The separation agreement also released the parties and their estates from claims and demands. Therefore, husband’s personal obligation to pay ended when he died, absent a clear indication to the contrary, which neither the premarital nor separation agreement provided.

The estate also contended that the district court erroneously awarded wife attorney fees and costs and that it should have been awarded its own attorney fees under the prevailing party provisions of the agreements. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed.

The order and judgments were reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.