Parental Right to Reasonable Discipline Reaffirmed

Division Two of the Second District handed mother a victory in her parental rights' appeal in In re D.M. (Nov. 24, 2015, B260549), ruling her use of her hand or a sandal to spank her children on rare occasions, but never leaving marks, was not infliction of "serious physical harm" within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 because the juvenile court did not determine the conduct "falls outside the right of parents, which exists elsewhere in California civil and criminal law, to discipline their children as long as the discipline is genuinely disciplinary, is warranted by the circumstances, and is reasonable (rather than excessive) in severity." This ruling is important because it emphasizes California juvenile law is not to be viewed in isolation, hermetically sealed from the rest of the legal universe. "Spanking" cases crop up periodically in dependency appeals, generally resolved by unpublished opinions, providing little guidance to appellate attorneys. However, the published D.M. not only explains the relevance of related areas of the law in a dependency law analysis, but also catalogues the spectrum of parental discipline previous appellate opinions have found to be abuse, also noting instances in which the juvenile court unnecessarily acted to restrict parental rights. Although the State must act to protect children, sometimes its agents are overzealous in asserting their authority. Hopefully, D.M. will prove an important check on state interference with parental rights. The opinion also is of interest because of its discussion of "mootness," both in the majority opinion and the dissent, providing ammunition to practitioners on both sides of that dispute in the future. Read the opinion: