June 19, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prospective Harm in D&N Case is Factual Question That Precludes Summary Judgment

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of S.N. on Thursday, November 21, 2013.

Dependency and Neglect—Summary Judgment—Prospective Harm.

The Boulder County Department of Human Services (Department) removed S.N. from her parents at birth because a hearing on termination of parental rights involving their three older children was pending. The Department then petitioned the trial court to adjudicate S.N. dependent and neglected, alleging there was a risk of prospective harm to S.N. if she were placed in the parents’ care. The parents denied the allegations and sought a jury trial, but the Department sought summary judgment. The trial court granted the Department’s motion.

On appeal, the parents argued that prospective harm is a factual question that precludes summary judgment. The Court of Appeals first reviewed the analysis of a summary judgment motion on appeal. It then analyzed “prospective harm” in a dependency and neglect proceeding, finding that the fact-finder must determine whether it is “likely” or “expected” that the child will be dependent or neglected in a parent’s care in the future. In other words, the fact-finder must predict whether, based on the parent’s past conduct and current circumstances, it is reasonably likely or expected that the parent will mistreat or fail to provide proper care for the child in the future. A parent’s past conduct and care of other children, while probative, is not necessarily dispositive on this issue. Therefore, the Court concluded, the question of prospective harm is inappropriate for summary judgment. The Department’s motion for summary judgment did not establish the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The trial court’s summary judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for an adjudicatory jury trial.

Summary and full case available here.

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