Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

C.W.B. v. A.S.

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

February 5, 2018

C.W.B., Jr., by and through his Guardian Ad Litem, Petitioner
v.
A.S. and J.S., Respondents and The People of the State of Colorado, and M.A.S., Concerning

         Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 16CA860

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Robert G. Tweedell, Guardian ad Litem Delta, Colorado

          Anna Ulrich, Guardian ad Litem Saguache, Colorado

          Attorney for Amicus Curiae Colorado Office of the Child's Representative: Sheri M. Danz Denver, Colorado

          Attorney for Amicus Curiae Office of Respondent Parents' Counsel: Ruchi Kapoor Denver, Colorado

          No appearance on behalf of Respondents.

          OPINION

          MÁRQUEZ JUSTICE.

         ¶1 In this dependency and neglect case, respondents are foster parents who intervened in the trial court proceedings pursuant to section 19-3-507(5)(a), C.R.S. (2017), 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 Department nor the GAL appealed the trial court's ruling. Instead, the foster parents appealed, seeking to reverse the trial court's order. The narrow question before us is whether the foster parents had standing to appeal the trial court's ruling. The court of appeals concluded they did. We granted the GAL's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision and now reverse.[1]

         ¶2 We hold that, although section 19-3-507(5)(a) permits foster parents to intervene in dependency and neglect proceedings following adjudication, foster parents here do not have a legally protected interest in the outcome of termination proceedings, and section 19-3-507(5)(a) does not automatically confer standing to them to appeal the juvenile court's order denying the termination motion at issue, where neither the Department nor the GAL sought review of the trial court's ruling. Moreover, because the GAL is statutorily obligated to advocate for the best interests of the child, including on appeal, there is no need to confer standing on foster parents to represent the best interests of the child on appeal. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case with instructions to dismiss the appeal.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 When C.W.B., Jr. was four weeks old, he underwent open heart surgery. At a follow-up appointment six weeks later, doctors discovered fractures to his femur and skull-injuries consistent with child abuse. The hospital contacted the Montezuma County Department of Social Services ("the Department"), and the Department filed a petition in dependency and neglect on June 24, 2014. The trial court granted temporary custody of C.W.B., Jr. to the Department and the Department eventually placed him with foster parents, J.S. and A.S. C.W.B., Jr.'s mother ("Mother") and father ("Father") both admitted that the child was dependent or neglected pursuant to section 19-3-102(1)(c), C.R.S. (2017), due to an injurious environment. The trial court then adjudicated the child as dependent or neglected and adopted treatment plans for both parents.

         ¶4 Father was later arrested for child abuse charges and pled guilty to one felony count of child abuse. The Department moved to terminate Father's parental rights. The trial court granted the motion after a hearing in February 2016. Father is not a party to this appeal and Father's parent-child legal relationship with C.W.B., Jr. is not at issue in this case.

         ¶5 Mother initially had some trouble complying with her treatment plan, and by late September 2014, the trial court had changed the permanency plan to adoption with the concurrent plan of family reunification. However, throughout early 2015, Mother began to participate more consistently in the treatments outlined in her treatment plan.

         ¶6 Meanwhile, in April 2015, the foster parents moved to intervene in the dependency and neglect proceedings under section 19-3-507(5)(a). The trial court granted the motion and allowed the foster parents to participate as intervenors.

         ¶7 Mother continued to work on her treatment plan, and in June 2015, she moved to change the permanency goal back to reunification. At a permanency hearing in October 2015, the court ordered more frequent visitations for Mother but did not formally change the permanency plan. However, in November 2015, the Department reported that Mother had successfully completed her treatment plan and requested that the permanency goal be changed from adoption back to reunification within six months, by March 2016.

         ¶8 In December 2015, the Department filed an update with the court in which it proposed that C.W.B., Jr. be moved to a new foster home closer to Mother's residence to facilitate visits with her. The Department also expressed concern that the current foster parents appeared to present a conflict with the Department's requested goal of reunification because they were too attached to the child and "want[ed] adoption to happen for them."

         ¶9 Later that month, the GAL moved to terminate Mother's parental rights, contending that she had not complied with her treatment plan and was an unfit parent. Nevertheless, in mid-January 2016, the trial court modified the permanency goal back to reunification and ordered overnight visits with Mother.

         ¶10 After a two-day hearing in April 2016, the trial court denied the motion to terminate Mother's parental rights, ultimately finding that Mother had reasonably complied with the treatment plan and that the GAL had failed to prove that she was an unfit parent. Neither the Department nor the GAL appealed the trial court's decision.

         ¶11 Instead, the foster parents, in their role as intervenors in the dependency and neglect case, and acting alone, filed an appeal in the court of appeals, seeking reversal of the trial court's order denying the motion to terminate Mother's parental rights. The Department filed a brief in response, asking the court of appeals to uphold the trial court's order.[2]

         ¶12 After reviewing the foster parents' petition on appeal, the court of appeals issued an order to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed for lack of standing. In response, the foster parents argued that they had standing to appeal under section 19-3-507(5)(a) and this court's decision in A.M. v. A.C., 2013 CO 16, ¶ 40, 296 P.3d 1026, 1038, which held that "foster parents who meet the required statutory criteria to intervene may participate fully in the termination hearing without limitation." The court of appeals subsequently ordered supplemental briefing on the standing issue. In their supplemental brief, the foster parents argued that they had standing to appeal because they had been made a party to the case under section 19-3-507(5)(a) and that no party currently represented the child's best interests because the GAL had not filed an appeal. The GAL and Office of the Child's Representative filed supplemental briefs opposing the foster parents' standing to appeal, arguing that the GAL has exclusive statutory authority to represent the child's best interests.

         ¶13 In a published, split decision, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's order denying the termination motion. People in Interest of C.W.B., Jr., 2017 COA 68, ___ P.3d ___. Relevant here, the panel majority held that the foster parents had standing to appeal the trial court's order denying the termination motion. Id. at ¶¶ 9-19. It reasoned that the foster parents suffered an injury in fact "inasmuch as they were arguably positioned to adopt the child in the event the mother's parental rights had been terminated." Id. at ¶ 14. The majority concluded that this injury was to a legally protected interest because section 19-3-507(5)(a) allows foster parents to intervene in the dependency and neglect proceedings as a matter of right, and it inferred from this court's decision in A.M. that "the statute gives qualifying foster parents a right to represent the best interests of the child, and therefore a stake in the outcome of the controversy." Id. at ¶¶ 16-17. On the merits, the panel majority nevertheless upheld the trial court's order, concluding that the trial court applied the correct legal standard in denying the termination motion and that the trial court's findings adequately supported its order. Id. at ¶¶ 31, 39.

         ¶14 Judge Harris dissented, concluding that the foster parents did not have standing to appeal. Id. at ¶ 42 (Harris, J., dissenting). Judge Harris acknowledged that the foster parents had a statutory right under section 19-3-507(5) (a) to intervene in the dependency and neglect proceedings pending before the trial court. However, she reasoned, section 19-3-507(5)(a) does not automatically confer standing to appeal the outcome of those proceedings. Id at ¶¶ 57-58. Rather, section 19-3-507(5)(a) confers only a procedural right to participate in the proceedings. Id. at ¶¶ 62-63, 65. Because the foster parents participated fully in the hearing on the termination motion, Judge Harris concluded that they suffered no injury and therefore lacked standing to appeal. Id. at ¶ 66. Judge Harris further concluded that section 19-3-507(5)(a) does not give foster parents standing to assert the best interests of the child on appeal and she disagreed with the panel majority's reliance on this court's decision in A.M. to conclude otherwise. Id. at ¶¶ 71, 80, 82.

         ¶15 We granted the GAL's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' ruling that the foster parents had ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.