May 19, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Dependency and Neglect Action Not Moot When Collateral Consequences Probable

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.G. on Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Dependency and Neglect—Mootness Following Child’s Death—CRCP 60(b) Motion.

In March 2006, the Jefferson County Division of Children, Youth, and Families (Division) filed a dependency and neglect petition and assumed temporary custody of a 5-year-old child and his younger half-sibling. The petition asserted that father (“whereabouts unknown”) had abandoned him. Publication notice was completed.

In May 2006, the court placed the child in the temporary custody of Phillips, the father of the child’s half-sibling. In November 2006, the court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected by default as to father and granted an allocation of parental responsibilities (APR) for the child to Phillips. The child died a year later. Phillips was convicted of first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death.

Several years later, father, the child’s mother, and the personal representative of the child’s estate commenced a federal court action against the Division, the Denver County Department of Human Services (Department), and two caseworkers from the Department. The claims were 42 USC §1983 claims for violations of the child’s substantive due process rights.

In June 2014, father moved for CRCP 60(b) relief in the dependency and neglect proceeding. He sought to vacate the trial court’s orders because the Division had failed to exercise due diligence to ascertain his identity before serving him by publication. The Division responded that the matter was moot, and father answered that it would have a practical effect on the §1983 action. The court denied father’s motion as moot without holding a hearing.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the request for relief was not moot because of the collateral consequence of the dependency and neglect orders in father’s federal action. The Court noted that an issue is not moot when the judgment may result in significant collateral consequences to a party. This decision turns on showing the reasonable possibility of such consequences. Here, the orders in the dependency and neglect proceeding were being used to impose a collateral consequence on father—the denial of relief in his federal action. If the child was not in the state’s custody after transferring custody and awarding APR to Phillips, then father’s only surviving claims in the federal action (against the caseworkers) would be dismissed. If, however, his CRCP 60(b) relief was granted, there would be a reasonable possibility that he could pursue his remaining claims in federal court.

Even if father’s motion were moot, the district court should have considered its merits because its substantive issues fell within the exceptions to the mootness doctrine. The order was reversed and the matter was remanded for consideration of the merits of the CRCP 60(b) motion.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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