In re B.O

The Court of Appeals of Washington, Division OneMar 12, 2007
137 Wn. App. 1038 (Wash. Ct. App. 2007)

Nos. 58146-5-I; 58147-3-I.

March 12, 2007.

Appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court for King County, No. 06-7-01202-8, James A. Doerty, J., entered April 4, 2006.

Counsel for Respondent(s) Dana Anderer (Appearing Pro Se), Redmond, WA.

Sally Kelly (Appearing Pro Se), Sammamish, WA.

Counsel for Minor(s) Zachary Walker Jarvis, The Defender Association, Seattle, WA.

Washington Appellate Project, Attorney at Law, Seattle, WA.

Gregory Charles Link, Washington Appellate Project, Seattle, WA.


Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.


Two at-risk youth, B.O. and S.B., were found in contempt after failing to follow court orders requiring them to reside at home, attend school, and meet a curfew. Both were ordered to stay in juvenile detention for seven days, but both could gain immediate release by writing an essay. They appeal the contempt orders, arguing that the contempt sanctions were criminal in nature and they were denied adequate due process. Because the sanctions were civil and met the requirements set forth in In the Interest of M.B., 101 Wn. App. 425, 3 P.3d 780 (2000), we affirm.

BACKGROUND

On January 17, 2006, the juvenile court found B.O. to be an at-risk youth. The court entered a disposition order requiring her to reside at home, attend school, meet a curfew, and abide by other conditions. On March 3, 2006, B.O.'s mother filed a motion and order to show cause requesting that B.O. be found in contempt of the disposition order. The motion alleged that B.O. had lied to her mother about her whereabouts, had contacted her boyfriend without her mother's permission, had left the house after being grounded, and ran away from home on March 2, 2006. At a hearing, B.O. explained that she felt unwelcome at home. The court, although sympathetic to B.O.'s feelings, concluded that B.O. should have sought assistance to alter the court's placement order rather than run away. It found her in contempt. The court imposed seven days of confinement but allowed B.O. to purge the contempt by writing an essay. Within two days, B.O. had written the essay. She left detention one day later.

S.B. is also an at-risk-youth ordered to live at home by the court. On April 20, 2006, S.B.'s mother filed a motion and order to show cause requesting that S.B. be found in contempt for violating the court's order. At a hearing four days later, S.B. acknowledged that she ran away, and the court found her in contempt. It imposed seven days of confinement but allowed S.B. to purge her contempt by writing a 20-page essay. S.B. failed to write the essay and was released after seven days.

Both girls appeal their contempt orders. Because they raise identical issues, we have consolidated their appeals. Although both girls have completed their confinement, we address their appeals because their claims involve a matter of continuing and substantial public interest. Hart v. Dep't of Soc. Health Servs., 111 Wn.2d 445, 448, 759 P.2d 1206 (1988).

The girls contend their contempt sanctions were criminal, not civil, both because the sanctions sought to punish past noncompliance, and because the purge condition imposed a requirement not found in the original disposition order. The girls contend that their inability to comply with the court's original order while in detention makes the sanction punitive, and the court's efforts to fashion remedies, such as writing essays, merely masks the sanctions' punitive character.

Whether a contempt sanction is criminal or civil is a key distinction because courts cannot impose a criminal contempt sanction absent a criminal charge and the full due process procedures given to other criminal defendants. Int'l Union, UMW v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 826, 114 S. Ct. 2552, 129 L. Ed 2d 652 (1994). A civil sanction, on the other hand, where the purpose is to coerce compliance with an order, and the contemnors "carry `the keys of their prison in their own pockets,'" has lesser due process requirements satisfied by the hearing process used in these cases. Shillitani v. United States, 384 U.S. 364, 368, 86 S. Ct. 153, 16 L. Ed. 2d 622 (1966) (quoting In re Nevitt, 117 F. 448, 461 (C.A. 8th Cir. 1902)).

We addressed these exact arguments in In the Interest of M.B., 101 Wn. App. 425, 450, 3 P.3d 780 (2000), and held that juvenile contempt sanctions are civil so long as the purge conditions serve remedial aims, are within the power of the child to fulfill, and are reasonably related to the nature of the child's contempt. In deciding M.B., we thoroughly considered the distinction between civil and criminal contempt, constitutional due process requirements, the legislature's intent when it authorized confinement of certain juveniles for contempt, and the inability of juveniles to retroactively comply with curfew, residency and school attendance orders. B.O. and S.B. urge us to revisit M.B. We decline to do so. The sanctions ordered for B.O. and S.B. satisfy the M.B. requirements.

Affirmed.