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M.E. v. Jefferson County Dep't of Human Res.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

February 7, 2014

M.E.
v.
Jefferson County Department of Human Resources

As Amended October 16, 2014.

Appeal from Jefferson Juvenile Court. (JU-12-105386.01 originally filed as JU-12-52338).

For Appellant: Seth D. Stringer, Birmingham.

For Appellee: Luther Strange, Attorney General, Sharon E. Ficquette, General Counsel, Elizabeth Hendrix, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Human Resources.

DONALDSON, Judge. Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Thomas, and Moore, JJ., concur.

OPINION

DONALDSON, Judge.

M.E. (" the mother" ) appeals from the judgment of the Jefferson Juvenile Court

Page 738

(" the juvenile court" ) ordering that custody of her minor son, J.H. III (" the child" ), continue with the child's maternal grandfather and his wife (" the grandparents" ) and closing the dependency case concerning the child to further court review. The mother asserts that she was deprived of the right to due process and that, by closing the case, the juvenile court improperly relieved the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources (" DHR" ) of its duties. Because we hold that the mother was not provided adequate notice of the nature of the proceedings that were conducted, and thus was denied due process, we reverse and remand.

Facts and Procedural History

The record indicates that DHR filed a dependency petition concerning the child in the juvenile court on September 1, 2012. The petition alleged that the mother had left the then 15-month-old child in the care of her paramour, who then assaulted the child. The child was placed in the temporary custody of the grandparents. On February 20, 2013, the parties stipulated to the dependency of the child. Later that day, the juvenile court entered an order scheduling a " review hearing" for May 29, 2013. The order, which was on a standardized form, listed certain types of proceedings that could be marked by the court with a check mark to further specify the purpose of the scheduled proceeding. The box for " Compliance/Dispositional Hearing" is checked on the form, but the box for " Permanency Hearing" is not checked. On March 12, 2013, the juvenile court appointed a Court Appointed Special Advocate (" the CASA" ) to represent the best interests of the child and to report to the court the circumstances surrounding the welfare of the child. On March 19, 2013, the grandparents filed a contempt motion, alleging that the mother had not been paying the court-ordered child support. The hearing on the contempt motion was also set for May 29, 2013.

At the May 29, 2013, hearing, the juvenile court began the proceeding by announcing: " We're set today for a motion for contempt" and " We're also here on review today." The juvenile court did not receive sworn testimony at the hearing, but it heard arguments from counsel for DHR, counsel for the mother, counsel for the grandparents, and the child's guardian ad litem. During the arguments, DHR asked the court to change the permanency plan for the child from one of reunification to a concurrent plan of reunification and permanent relative placement. DHR also recommended continuing custody of the child with the grandparents. DHR's counsel requested that the court " close" the case because the mother had not complied with DHR's requests or with orders of the court.

Among other things, counsel for the parties discussed the mother's living situation and whether she had continued a relationship with the paramour who had assaulted the child. The attorney for the grandparents indicated that the grandparents expected to call witnesses at any hearing held on the issues. During the proceedings, the guardian ad litem questioned a witness identified as a law-enforcement officer about certain events; however, the witness was not sworn and the exchange was conducted informally without direct examination or cross-examination. The attorney for the mother maintained that the mother would refute the factual allegations made by DHR, the grandparents, and the guardian ad litem concerning the mother's alleged noncompliance with DHR requests and the orders of the court.

At the conclusion of the arguments, the juvenile court asked the parties if they wanted to present any other testimony or ...


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