The Florida Supreme Court last week lifted the stay on two private petition cases out of the Third DCA: KBLV and BYGM. The Florida Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in OICL, a case involving a child in the physical custody of an uncle who sought a dependency adjudication based on the uncle’s lack of legal custodianship. In contrast, the two new cases involve children in the custody of their mothers who sought dependency adjudications based on abandonment by their fathers. The children argue that without the adjudication of dependency, they will be returned to the care of their fathers and thus will be at risk of harm.
The Court simultaneously stayed two other cases which were decided by the Third in December 2015: EPN and BRCM. These cases involve children in the custody of a mother and a godmother, respectively. Both cases drew lengthy dissents from Judge Salter.
The Florida Supreme Court has also agreed to review, without oral argument, the case of S.M. v. the Department of Children & Families. This case arises from a termination of parental rights. The mother was originally accused of neglect, and appears to have had an ongoing marijuana dependency and lack of employment. The children were placed with the mother’s relatives. The mother argues that termination was not the “least restrictive means” of protecting the children from harm where relatives were available and there was no allegation that her continued contact with the children posed any risk of harm. The Fourth DCA found that the existence of a relative placement was not sufficient to defeat a termination of parental rights.
Reading these cases side by side, it’s hard not to notice the incongruous rulings. In one set of cases, the rights to a child could be terminated even if the child was safely in a relative placement; but in the other set, the child could not even be adjudicated dependent because of the relative and non-relative placements. In the first set, the child will have ongoing safety due to a court order. In the second set, the child will be all but guaranteed to return to danger because of the failure to enter a court order. I leave it to the reader to craft some clever logic to reconcile the two outcomes. It appears to me that immigration status is the major distinguishing feature.