In re Joshua J. (1995)
In this case the superior court ruled that Welf and Inst Code § 300 petitions cannot be re- litigated under the collateral estoppel/res judiciata doctrine. Appellant cited that the trial court had erred in not allowing him to re-litigate the basis of dependency, the original WIC § 300 petition and there was insufficient evidence for a basis of dependency and removal.
Appellant contested the finding of the WIC § 300 (j) petition on the half sibling stating that there was not sufficient evidence proffered to sustain the finding that the half sibling was at risk of abuse because the other sibling had been abused. The appellate court disagreed stating that because a true finding had made on the original § 300 petition on the appellant's own son who then was adjudged a minor described under Welf and Inst Code § 300 earlier, the dependency of the half sibling was precluded from litigation under the collateral estoppel aspect of the res judicata doctrine.
"The doctrine of res judicata gives certain conclusive effect to a former judgment in subsequent litigation involving the same controversy. It seeks to curtail multiple litigation causing vexation and expense to the parties and wasted effort and expense in judicial administration." (7 Witkin, [39 Cal. App. 4th 993] Cal. Procedure (3d ed. 1985)
Under the collateral estoppel doctrine, the court can prevent a party from relitigating an issue, issue preclusion. The court finds that the appellant’s appeal without merit. To uphold its finding court turns to the elements to assert collateral estoppel.
First, the court will consider whether there was a previous litigation in which identical issues were raised to the present one. Secondly the issue must have been fully litigated. Finally, a final judgement must have been entered on the issue in question. In addition, the party who subject to the estoppel must have been the same. The appellate court finds that all the criteria were met in this case.
The previous dependency of the minor satisfied the first criteria. The juvenile court had fully litigated and entered a final judgement on the Welf and Inst Code § 300 petition. The court had weighed all of the evidence and made a true finding. The issue of whether Justin was abused, the j count, had been the subject and decided in the previous dependency proceeding and is identical to this issue to be re litigated. The minor child and the appellant were both parties or privity to a party of the previous case. In this case the court considered the half son a close relative to the party and therefore the proceedings applied to him as much as the appellant's own child. As a result, the appellate court found that collateral estoppel was properly asserted in this case.
Appellant incorrectly cites another case (in re. Benjamin D) as estoppel was incorrectly applied due to requirements that the privity of parties be the same and the issues not being identical because the two proceedings had different purposes.
Appellant also asserted that the court’s refusal to re litigate the issue contravened the meaning and the language of Welf and Inst Code § 300: subdivision (j): “The court shall consider the circumstances surrounding the abuse or neglect of the sibling, the age and gender of each child, the nature of the abuse or neglect of the sibling, the mental condition of the parent or guardian, and any other factors the court considers probative in determining whether there is a substantial risk to the minor.” The appellate court disagrees. The appellate court states that the language referred to above is intended for the second prong of the j count which would be whether a minor is at risk of abuse or neglect not whether a sibling was abused which is the first prong.
The other issue was that the appellant indicated a desire to re-litigate the issue of whether the minor was abused and not the circumstances surrounding the abuse ... of the sibling. The appellant had failed to make an offer of proof suggesting that the abuse had occurred under a certain scenario. The record indicated that appellant wished to dispute the forensic findings as misinterpretations. The appellate court found that re litigation of the forensic findings would be tantamount to relitigating the WIC § 300 finding of abuse or neglect and therefore be properly blocked under the principal of res judicata.
The appellate court adds that even should the instant court in 1987 proceeding had made a mistake regarding the circumstances of the abuse, it would have been a harmless error given the serious nature of the minor’s injuries.
The appellate court sustained the trial court’s finding of dependency.
In re Joshua J., 39 Cal. App. 4th 984
Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One
September 29, 1995, Decided
In re JOSHUA J., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. SAN DIEGO COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. JAMES J. et al., Objectors and Appellants.
Prior History: Superior Court of San Diego County, No. J509578, Yuri Hofmann, Referee.
Disposition: The judgment is affirmed.
Appellant father and mother challenged the decision of the Superior Court of San Diego County (California), which, pursuant to Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300(j), declared their son a dependent of the San Diego County Juvenile Court and removed him from appellants' custody.
Respondent San Diego County Department of Social Services filed a dependency petition, alleging that appellant father and mother's newborn child required juvenile court protection under Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300(j), which allowed the juvenile court to assert jurisdiction over a minor where the minor's sibling has been abused or neglected and there was a substantial risk that the minor would be abused or neglected. The newborn's half brother had been physically and sexually abused by appellant father, and had been removed from appellant father's home in a prior dependency proceeding. The trial court found in favor of respondent and removed the newborn from appellants' custody. Appellant father contended that the trial court violated his due process by denying him the right to relitigate the basis of the prior dependency proceeding. The court affirmed, holding that any attempt to relitigate the prior proceeding was barred by collateral estoppel.
The court affirmed the trial court's judgment that removed appellant father and mother's newborn child from their custody because appellant father's claim that he had a right to relitigate the basis of a prior dependency proceeding in which he was found to have abused the newborn's sibling was barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.
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