California Supreme Court rules in case of injured infant and distraught parents
An employer or agency has no legal requirement to search California’s Child Abuse Central Index (CACI), but can choose to do so as a matter of internal policy, the Supreme Court of California said in a recent case.
The employer or agency is not barred from hiring or granting a license to someone listed in the CACI but may hesitate from doing so, the court added.
In 2019, the parents of an infant son became concerned about his excessive crying. They took the baby to the hospital. A chest X-ray showed that the child had a rib fracture that the parents could not explain.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a dependency petition, which alleged that the infant and his 5-year-old sister were at risk of neglect.
The juvenile court found that it had jurisdiction over the son under the Welfare and Institutions Code. It held that the baby suffered or was at a substantial risk of suffering serious physical harm or illness due to his parent’s or guardian’s failure or inability to adequately supervise or protect him.
The parents appealed and challenged the jurisdictional finding. The juvenile court terminated its jurisdiction. It determined that the parents complied with their case plan and that the child was no longer at risk.
The father argued that, even though the juvenile court terminated its jurisdiction, the appeal was not moot. This was because the jurisdictional finding was stigmatizing and resulted in or would result in his inclusion in the CACI, he said.
The Court of Appeal of California dismissed the parents’ appeal. It found the appeal moot because of the termination of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.
In the case of In re D.P., California’s Supreme Court granted the father’s petition for review and reversed the appellate court’s judgment. The Supreme Court returned the case to the Court of Appeal so that it could reconsider the father’s claim that discretionary review was proper.
Appeal is moot
The Supreme Court ruled that the father’s challenge to the juvenile court’s jurisdictional finding was moot because he failed to show that the allegation of neglect against him was reportable for inclusion in the CACI.
The father also did not demonstrate that he was actually reported for inclusion in the CACI, the Supreme Court said. He did not submit any documents from the justice department to prove that he was listed in the CACI.
This uncertainty made the father’s CACI claim too speculative, the Supreme Court held. He failed to show a specific legal or practical consequence that a favorable judgment could remedy, the court added.
The Supreme Court noted the following:
- California law required state agencies to search the CACI before granting certain rights and benefits, including employment in childcare and licensing to care for children in a day care center
- CACI information – which was available to a broad array of state agencies, employers, and law enforcement entities – could be stigmatizing to a person included
Case may be reviewed despite mootness
The Court of Appeal had the discretion to review the father’s case even though the appeal was moot, the Supreme Court ruled. The appellate court committed an error when it found that the father had to show specific legal or practical negative consequences caused by the jurisdictional finding, the Supreme Court said.