In re A.T.

A149427 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 5, 2018)



In re A.T., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. CONTRA COSTA COUNTY CHILDREN & FAMILY SERVICES BUREAU, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Ava T., Defendant and Appellant.


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115. (Contra Costa County Super. Ct. No. J1600380)


In this dependency appeal, Ava T. (mother) challenges the dispositional orders removing her young son, A.T., from her care pursuant to section 361 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. Specifically, she asserts that there was insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's determination that A.T. would be at substantial risk of harm if returned to her physical custody given her progress since the filing of the petition. Concluding that ample evidence supports the juvenile court's removal order, we affirm.

All statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code unless otherwise specified.

Because mother's petition raises no substantial issues of law or fact, we resolve this cause by abbreviated form of opinion as permitted by California Standards of Judicial Administration, section 8.1.


A.T. (born November 2014), the minor who is the subject of these proceedings, was detained by the Contra Costa County Children & Family Services Bureau (Bureau) on March 31, 2016, after mother was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold pursuant to section 5150. On that date, the police were called by a house cleaner who reported that an unknown woman (later identified as mother) was attempting to break into the home she was cleaning. According to the house cleaner, when she told mother that the owner was not there, mother began making strange hand gestures and called her a " 'fucking bitch.' " After the house cleaner backed away and then turned and ran, mother chased her around the residence, continuing to call her names. The house cleaner was eventually able to call the police. At that point, mother returned to her car, which was parked in the driveway with A.T. sitting in his car seat. When she was subsequently approached by a police officer, mother initially said nothing, making hand gestures as if she was deaf. She then started saying over and over again that she needed to talk to Judge Judy in department 26. The police officer observed an empty whiskey bottle on the driver's seat, identified two bottles of psychotropic medication on the passenger seat, and smelled the odor of alcohol coming from mother.

Thereafter, the owner of the home arrived and indicated that he had known mother years ago in high school, but had not seen her until she appeared at his house "out of the blue" approximately six months ago. According to the owner, mother acted strangely during that encounter, telling him that she needed help and asking him if he would buy some of her personal property. He told her no, asked her to leave, and had not seen her since. The owner further reported that mother was a " 'drunk' " and was " 'crazy.' " Determining that mother was clearly a danger to herself and others, the police officer took mother and A.T. into custody.

When the social worker arrived at the police station, mother was pounding on the door of her cell, yelling and screaming. She continued to demand to talk to Judge Judy and started rambling that she was being followed by the FBI. In response to questioning by the social worker, mother stated that she drank a half pint of whisky and purposely drove drunk with her son because she wanted to be arrested so that she could get "help" for him. Mother, however, was unable to articulate what kind of help the minor needed. As a result of this incident, A.T. was detained in foster care and the Bureau filed a petition pursuant to subdivision (b) of section 300.

On May 11, 2016, after a mediated agreement was reached, mother submitted to jurisdiction on an amended petition which indicated that A.T. was at risk of harm due to mother's substance abuse problem and her conduct on March 31, 2016. On this basis, the juvenile court found the amended allegations true and concluded that the minor was a person described by subdivision (b) of section 300. A.T. remained in foster care and the matter was continued for disposition.

In its dispositional report, the Bureau acknowledged mother's positive efforts since the minor was detained. In particular, mother had entered a 90-day residential substance abuse treatment program and was on track to graduate in approximately 10 days. She had been seeing a therapist in-program and had consistently drug and alcohol tested with no positive results. Her visitation with the minor had increased and was, by all accounts, positive.

The dispositional report, however, also disclosed numerous details regarding mother's long and troubling history with alcoholism and domestic violence. With respect to substance abuse, the report indicated that the maternal grandfather had been a functioning alcoholic, although mother had little contact with him growing up. She began drinking alcohol herself at age 11. Despite drinking and using drugs all through high school, mother graduated and then attended college, earning a degree in Anthropology. In 1999, while in her mid-20s, mother met her husband. They got along because they were both alcoholics. By 2008, however, mother had liver failure and was reportedly close to death. As mother described the situation: " '[T]hey told me I had seven days to live if I did not stop drinking. So, true to my alcoholic spirit, I stopped drinking after five days.' " After mother became sober, she separated from her husband as they no longer had anything in common. Mother then moved to California to live with her mother, where she reported meeting the " 'love of [her] life.' " Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic and mother relapsed, which caused renewed problems with her liver. Realizing that she would die if she didn't stop drinking, mother successfully completed short-term residential treatment in 2011. Her then-fiancée initially continued to drink, but then swore to go into a program and get sober for mother. Tragically, he had a sudden heart attack and died the very next day. At that same time, mother learned she had uterine cancer and underwent treatment. She was told that she would never bear children. In 2013, she relapsed and again successfully completed residential treatment. Thereafter, mother learned that—against all odds—she was pregnant. She was unclear about her drinking pattern during this time frame, stating both that she was sober and that she drank to cope. She described at least one of her partners, Peter B., as going "to bed by nine after drinking himself to the point of passing out." Thereafter, in March 2016, she was found with the empty whiskey bottle in her car during the incident described above and admitted to drinking and driving on purpose. Although she subsequently engaged in residential treatment for the third time, staff was concerned that she was only going through the motions and failed to fully understand and take responsibility for her situation.

As for domestic violence, when mother was 12, her 16-year-old boyfriend kidnapped and repeatedly raped her, holding her hostage for three days. During this extended assault, mother's uterus was injured to the point that she was told it was unlikely that she would ever bear children, a medical opinion that was later reiterated, as stated above, during her bout with uterine cancer. Mother met A.T.'s alleged father, Jim T., after her cancer treatment and became involved with him. Although things appeared to go well for several months, one day Mr. T. unexpectedly raged at mother for 20 minutes, striking her several times in the face with a closed fist. The social worker, having seen pictures of mother after the incident, described the attack as severe. It was during treatment for the injuries resulting from this abuse that mother discovered that she was pregnant. Mother then reached out to Peter B., an old high school friend with whom she had stayed in touch, and ended up moving in with him. According to mother, Peter B. was very controlling and "slowly 'took over [her] life.' " When A.T. was born and mother refused to put Mr. B. on the birth certificate, he became angry and escalated into being physically violent. He controlled her by threatening to get the Bureau to take A.T. away or by telling her he would give the minor to Jim T. Mother asserted that it was the situation with Mr. B. that led to her behavior in March 2016, causing her psychiatric detention. After the petition was filed, mother moved in with yet another man and then to an undisclosed location before entering residential treatment.

When the social worker later contacted Mr. T., he stated that mother was " 'crazy.' " Moreover, he was not interested in becoming involved in the dependency because he was afraid of mother, who he stated "was violent and would 'stalk' him."

When the social worker interviewed Mr. B. after mother was detained, he said that he cared about A.T. but would not be considered as a placement option for the minor because he no longer wanted mother in his life. Mr. B. further reported that mother was violent; that he had a restraining order against her; and that he was currently attempting to have her legally evicted from his home because she refused to leave. Apparently this situation had been going on for some time, as mother reportedly posted on Facebook in April 2015 that she had a restraining and move out order against Peter B., who she claimed lied, was controlling, threatened to turn off the power and water, and stated that he would have A.T. taken away from her. Mother posted several pictures of herself with multiple bruises and bite marks at that time, seemingly from Mr. B. --------

Most recently, mother indicated that she would be moving in with a "family friend" after completing her residential treatment program, but that the relationship was not romantic. The Bureau, however, believed that the 68-year-old, Craig S., would be covering mother's rent and treatment staff was concerned that he had a "large influence" on mother's thinking. Moreover, when called to testify at the contested hearing, Mr. S. stated—contrary to mother's testimony—that he had only known mother for a few months and did not know her family. The Bureau, for obvious reasons, was concerned about this new relationship. Of additional concern was mother's own history of violence, which indicated several domestic violence arrests and one conviction.

With respect to mother's mental health, after the March 2016 incident, the social worker noted that mother "displayed an inconsistent cognitive style and integration of facts." She also showed difficulties with reality testing—not understanding, for instance, that leaving her one year old in the car while drinking a large amount of alcohol mixed with psychotropic medication and then terrorizing a house cleaner was an inappropriate way to seek help. Instead, mother characterized the 5150 event as a misunderstanding. Based on these concerns, the Bureau referred mother for comprehensive mental health services—including assessment and treatment—in June 2016. Mother, however, declined those services, stating she had no issues. Instead, mother selected her own psychiatrist, who assessed her for a single hour based solely on her self-report. Unsurprisingly, the Bureau found this assessment inadequate. Indeed, the current information from mother's residential program was that, while mother was doing better with embracing the treatment message, there were "mental health aspects" to her situation that were cause for real concern.

Finally, the serious and chronic nature of all of mother's issues was reflected in the information received by the Bureau from mother's own family. According to her family, mother had a consistent pattern of alcoholism and violence dating back to her childhood. Specifically, when mother was drinking she became "irrational, violent, manipulative, and abusive. She alienated all her friends and family over the years." The family had rallied around mother " 'many times' " and had supported her during her periods of sobriety. However, when mother again relapsed and entered into a domestic violence relationship with Mr. B., they ended their relationship with her—" 'for good this time.' " As the maternal aunt described it: " 'We'd seen all this before. She has never stopped this; drinking, violence, lies, manipulating, stealing. We just don't trust her. She can't be trusted.' " This sister further stated that she was unwilling to act as a placement resource for A.T. because she knew mother was violent and would " 'never leave [them] alone.' "

Both mother and the social worker testified at the contested dispositional hearing in July 2016. At the conclusion of that hearing, minor's counsel and the Bureau argued for removal based on mother's history. Thereafter, the juvenile court specifically found mother "not credible at all," stating that she had a hard time with "either reality or truthfulness." In fact, the court addressed mother directly, stating: "Your reality is so far from what is truly occurring that I find this proceeding to even be more insightful as to the risk to this child because of your testimony here today, your ardent refusal to acknowledge your alcoholism, the depths of that alcoholism and I think some rather extraordinary mental health concerns." Finding that mother's mental health had not been adequately assessed and that she had "profound issues of domestic violence" in addition to her alcoholism, the juvenile court declared A.T. to be a dependent child, removed him from mother's physical custody, and ordered reunification services. Mother's timely notice of appeal now brings the matter before this court.


In order to remove a dependent child from a parent's home at disposition, there must be clear and convincing evidence of a substantial danger to the child's health, safety, or physical or emotional well-being that cannot be eliminated by reasonable means. (In re J.C. (2014) 233 Cal.App.4th 1, 6 (J.C.); In re H.E. (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 710, 718-723 (H.E.).) Put another way, " '[a] removal order is proper if based on proof of parental inability to provide proper care for the child and proof of a potential detriment to the child if he or she remains with the parent. [Citation.] "The parent need not be dangerous and the minor need not have been actually harmed before removal is appropriate. The focus of the statute is on averting harm to the child." ' " (In re A.S. (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 237, 247 (A.S.).) In analyzing the need for removal, " '[t]he court may consider a parent's past conduct as well as present circumstances.' " (Ibid.) And, with respect to a removal order, "[o]ur review on appeal follows the ordinary rules for substantial evidence, notwithstanding that the finding below had to be made by clear and convincing evidence." (H.E., supra, 169 Cal.App.4th at pp. 723-724; J.C., supra, 233 Cal.App.4th at p. 6.)

We have no trouble in this case concluding that substantial evidence supports the juvenile court's removal order. As set forth above, mother's detention pursuant to section 5150 in March 2016 was just the tip of the iceberg. Upon investigation, the Bureau uncovered mother's chronic and deep-seated alcoholism, an addiction which had persisted despite two previous stints in residential treatment and twice being close to death due to liver failure. Moreover, mother's pattern of engaging in relationships characterized by domestic violence, along with her own violent tendencies, were cause for serious concern. Finally, mother's obvious mental health issues clearly required further assessment and treatment before the minor could safely be returned to her care. In this regard, mother's argument that the juvenile court should not have considered her mental health or history of domestic violence at disposition because those issues were not detailed in the petition is not well taken. "The juvenile court has broad discretion in crafting a disposition pursuant to a child's best interest." (In re Nada R. (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 1166, 1179.) In doing so, the court is required to consider all relevant evidence, not just the information contained in the petition. (§ 358, subd. (b)(1).) We are similarly unpersuaded by mother's assertion that the court should have focused on mother's recent positive efforts rather than on her long and troubling history. While mother's latest attempts at addressing her issues are certainly laudable, the juvenile court appropriately considered mother's past conduct when ordering the minor's removal. (See A.S., supra, 202 Cal.App.4th at p. 247.) And, given the depth and complexity of mother's problems, along with her prior treatment failures, there was abundant evidence that further services and more than 80 days of positive progress were needed before reunification could safely be contemplated. (See J.C., supra, 233 Cal.App.4th at pp. 6-7 [seven months of sobriety insufficient to justify return given father's history].) We see no error.


The judgment is affirmed.


REARDON, J. We concur: /s/_________
RUVOLO, P. J. /s/_________