Fifth DCA Says No Written Interrogatories in Dependency Cases

Petitioner correctly contends that discovery in juvenile proceedings is governed by rule 8.245 and that the discovery tools authorized are limited. The rule permits production of documents and things for inspection and other purposes [rule 8.245(d) ], production of documents and things without deposition [rule 8.245(e) ] and depositions [rule 8.245(g) ]. The juvenile rules do allow for the use of written interrogatories for “Perpetuating Testimony Before Action or Pending Appeal.” See Fla. R. Juv. P. 8.245(h)(1)(C). That rule does not apply in these circumstances, however, and there is no other authority for the use of interrogatories in dependency cases. Because no rule authorizes their use, there is also no rule regulating their use. To refuse to disallow the use of interrogatories by K.D. was a material departure from the essential requirements of law.

Department of Children And Families v. K.D., — So.3d —-, 2012 WL 967657 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012).

Hopefully this will result in a Juvenile Rule change. I can think of no good reason why interrogatories would be disallowed in Dependency cases, especially where one of the parties is a giant, multi-level organization with sometimes up to a hundred people working on any given case (case managers, transportation workers, secretaries, interns, IT staff, administrators, et al., etc. for each lead organization and each CBC and contracted service provider below them). And even more especially where time is of such an essence that setting depositions for every inquiry could delay proceedings needlessly.

It’s also notable that this was a hearing to review denial of RTI. Had K.D. pursued a fair hearing instead of circuit court review, interrogatories would have been available. See FAC 65-2.057(6) (“To the extent that the rules of discovery in the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure are not inconsistent with Chapter 120 F.S., the rules of discovery of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure shall be applicable. The Hearings Officer may issue appropriate orders to effectuate the purposes ofdiscovery and to prevent delay”); § 120.57(1)(h), Fla. Stat. (2011) (allowing summary judgment on responses to interrogatories). You should not have to give up discovery just to pursue certain claims.

I would like a court to address the argument that the circuit court, in cases such as these, is not presiding over a dependency case at all, but is actually sitting in review of an agency decision under chapter 120. I’m not sure if that was argued below. In the future it might be wise to file a separate petition for review of agency action citing both section 120 and the extended jurisdiction statute.

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