Juvenile Court only Has Jurisdiction if Minor Is Alive

In a sad case, Imperial County Dept. of Social Services v. S.S. (D068026 Dec. 10, 2015), 4/1 explains today the Juvenile Court only has jurisdiction as long as the minor is alive. There, 21-month-old A.A. was removed from a family home which the Department had alleged was replete with evidence of drug use and then placed in foster care. The day before the disposition hearing the next month, the child passed away, apparently by "inflicted trauma" while in the foster home. Mother requested the "case be held open for another 30 days so that a death certificate could be obtained, and the court agreed." When the matter came on before the court in January 2015, the basic "informational copy" of the death certificate would be forthcoming within a few days, but it "would not contain an official 'cause of death' because the medical examiner's report would not be finalized for 60 days," so the court "agreed to hold open the case for another 90 days." In April the Department sought an order terminating jurisdiction and dismissing the case, attaching the death certificate. The child's counsel desired to pursue "a motion for appointment of separate counsel to investigate whether Child had a potential tort claim, i.e., a guardian ad litem (GAL)." After further proceedings, "the court terminated its jurisdiction and denied Child's motion for a GAL." Father and the minor appealed, but the Court of Appeal affirmed, explaining the purposes of the Juvenile Court, a special department of the Superior Court, are child protection and family reunification, which could no longer be achieved. The lower court did not have "inherent authority" to issue orders pertaining to children just because those children may have come within its jurisdiction previously. The child's parents were not without a remedy however, as there were other avenues to pursue to obtain the records. However, the parents would not have the assistance of court-appointed counsel or a GAL to ferret them out. This case reinforces that a Juvenile Court is not a court of general jurisdiction, empowered to issue all reasonable orders as long as the parties are properly before it. It is an unpleasant truth that legal principles sometimes are illustrated by tragic facts.     Although the basic "death certificate" was available,