July 20, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Finding of No Dependency and Neglect Not Final Appealable Order

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of S.M.-L. on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Dependency and NeglectFinal and Appealable Order.

The Department of Human Services (Department) filed a dependency and neglect petition regarding S.M-L., B.M-M, and R.S. (the children). The petition named D.S. as R.S.’s biological father and named G.S. as the mother of all of the children. The Department asserted that father had sexually abused his stepdaughter S.M-L. He was arrested and criminally charged with sexual abuse. Father denied the allegations and mother believed S.M-L was lying about them. Mother requested a bench trial and father requested a jury trial.

As to mother, the court found the allegations in the petition had been proven by a preponderance of the evidence and entered an order adjudicating the children dependent and neglected. However, the jury returned a verdict as to father finding that R.S. was not dependent or neglected. The Department moved for an adjudication of father notwithstanding the verdict. The trial court denied the motion and dismissed father from the petition. Both the Department and mother appealed.

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued an order to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed for lack of a final, appealable order, noting that it was unaware of any authority for the proposition that dismissing a parent from a petition based on a jury verdict was a final appealable order. C.R.S. § 19-1-109(2)(c) provides that an order decreeing a child to be neglected or dependent shall be a final and appealable order upon the entry of the disposition. This section does not address the dismissal of a party from the petition based on a jury’s verdict finding a child was not dependent or neglected as to that party. The court also noted that after the jury determined that R.S. was not dependent or neglected as to father, the trial court did not have jurisdiction to enter any orders other than dismissal of the petition. Because a jury’s “no adjudication” verdict is not a proper basis for a motion for adjudication notwithstanding the verdict and thus is not a final appealable order under C.A.R. 3.4(a) or C.R.S. § 19-1-109(2)(c), the Department’s appeal was dismissed.

Mother challenged her adjudication on several grounds, but the court found no reversible error because the evidence supported the trial court’s factual findings.

The Department’s appeal was dismissed and the order adjudicating mother was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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