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In re A.G., Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law



In re A.G., Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
V.G., Defendant and Appellant.

No. B229631.

Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Eight.

Filed June 15, 2011.

Daniel G. Rooney, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.
Andrea Sheridan Ordin, County Counsel, James M. Owens, Assistant County Counsel, and Kim Nemoy, Principal Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

V.G. (mother) appeals from the trial court's dispositional findings and orders under section 361, subdivision (c) of the Welfare and Institutions Code1 as to her now-13-year-old adopted daughter, A.G. Father is not a party to this appeal. Mother contends A.G. should have been returned to mother's home after she recanted her claims of abuse. Mother also contends the trial court abused its discretion when it ordered monitored visitation instead of unmonitored visits. The Department of Children and Family Services has moved to dismiss the portion of the appeal challenging the visitation order, reasoning that the appeal is moot because unmonitored visits have since been ordered by the trial court. The department has also moved to have this court take into evidence the trial court's handwritten order liberalizing visitation. We affirm, and grant the department's unopposed motions.
Mother and father have four adopted minor children, 13-year-old A.G., 14-year-old W.G., 11-year-old J.G., and 12-year-old V.G. W.G., J.G., and V.G., who are not parties to the juvenile dependency petition, live in the Philippines with mother's cousin. Mother and father also have an adult biological daughter, C.G. Beginning in 2002, mother and father were foster parents to siblings A.G., J.G., and V.G., after a dependency petition was filed on their behalf due to drug abuse and domestic violence by their biological mother. They adopted the sibling group in 2006. W.G., an unrelated foster child cared for by mother and father, was eventually adopted as well.
Although mother and father have long acted as foster parents and have adopted children out of the juvenile dependency system, their own family has been the subject of numerous referrals for abuse to the department. There were six unfounded referrals to the agency for child abuse between 2002 and 2008, involving reports that father physically abused W.G., he hit all of the children with hangers, mother kicked W.G. in the face, and mother verbally and physically abused all of the children, including shoving W.G.'s face into vomit. These referrals were deemed unfounded after the children and parents denied any abuse. However, mother did not entirely deny a referral for physical abuse of A.G. in March 2007, based on "slapping and hitting" by both parents. The investigation revealed that the children had been afraid to disclose physical abuse by their parents because they were fearful their parents would go to jail. Services were ordered for the family but were discontinued after the family moved to the Philippines in May 2007. The in-home family preservation counselor found mother and father to be "`compliant'" and willing "`to learn appropriate parenting skills.'" The family eventually returned to the United States in 2008 and experienced no referrals to the department until the referral at issue in this appeal was made.
This referral occurred on June 17, 2010, when A.G. arrived at school crying, and told school staff that mother hit her and called her names, and was taking her to the Philippines against her will that evening. The department's ensuing investigation revealed significant evidence of physical and emotional abuse of A.G. and her adoptive siblings.
1. The Department's Investigation
A.G. told social worker Maribel Montanez that since she was five, mother hit her "with her hand, fist, high heel . . . pinch her arm, pull her hair, bathe her in cold water[,] and on one occasion cut off all her long hair as punishment." Father hit A.G. with a long metal spoon and hanger on her feet, hands, and head, making it hard to walk and resulting in bumps on her head. Ms. Montanez observed a bruise on A.G.'s arm and one on her leg, which A.G. said resulted from mother hitting her with a closed fist and throwing her on the floor. Her siblings, W.G., J.G., and V.G., suffered similar abuse. Once, mother dragged W.G., who has Down's syndrome and is autistic, down tile stairs by her hair.
Mother is verbally abusive as well, calling A.G. names such as "`bitch, whore and worthless puta.'" A.G. made a recording of one such tirade by mother, which she shared with Ms. Montanez. The recording was in Tagalog, and in it mother called A.G. a "whore," said her mother is a "bitch," and threatened to hurt A.G. Listening to the recording made A.G. cry and made her feel "sad and depressed." Mother admitted to "`saying bad words in Tagalog'" because she was upset with A.G, and that "`[w]hen I'm mad I kinda say a lot of things.'" Mother further admitted, "`I [lose] it when I get my attacks and I scream and yell.'" Others confirm mother uses abusive language. C.G. reported mother would call A.G. a "`rodent'" in Tagalog. A family friend and babysitter admitted that mother "`could say bad things.'"
A.G.'s adult sister, C.G., confirmed that "the abuse has gone on for over 6 years and both parents have threatened all the adoptive children that if they tell anyone, both parents will go to jail and they will be homeless." C.G. believes her parents are only "`concerned with the payment they were receiving for the children.'" Parents did not provide healthy meals for the children and would make the children watch television instead of allowing them to play outside or read. Mother and father used to provide good care for the foster children they hosted over the years, but the care got worse over time.
A.G.'s school principal was "very concerned for [A.G.]'s safety[,]" and noted that mother "has not been a part of [A.G.]'s academic life . . . [and] has not attended open house night, important IEP [Individualized Education Program] meetings and did not attend the parent teacher conference." A.G. is in special education and suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
When father was interviewed by the police and Ms. Montanez, he was very nervous and asked, "`Can we hurry this, I don't want to [lose] my flight to the Philippines, you know I can [lose] my money on that flight ticket.'" He denied any abuse by mother. When asked about his other adopted children, he responded that they were in the Philippines. He could not provide any contact information for the children, saying he was "`not sure where they are.'" Ms. Montanez asked father why the children were in the Philippines, and he responded, "`They are better cared for there, here we don't have time.'" When father was told that A.G. is afraid to return home, he started to laugh and said, "`You know that girl is just a spoiled little brat, let me get out of here[,] I don't want to miss my flight[;] I have business to take care of in the Philippines.'"
Ms. Montanez went to A.G.'s home to meet with mother, who was noticeably flustered and aggravated. When Ms. Montanez explained the reason for the visit, mother smiled and chuckled under her breath. She denied any abuse, and said, "`Everything is a lie . . .'" and "`This is useless. You know what, if you want her you can have her, I don't care[;] my head hurts[,] you disturbed my nap.'" When asked where the rest of the children were, mother responded that they were in the Philippines with her cousin. "`[W]hen I got those kids they were taking Ritalin and they ha[d] special needs, but since I took them to the Philippines I do not believe they need any of that stuff.'" When asked if the children had seen mental health professionals for follow ups, mother responded, "`Oh no[,] they are fine.'" Mother had not seen the children in about a year because she was "not really worried for them."
Father planned to take A.G. to the Philippines on June 17, 2010, but his plans were interrupted by the referral to the department. Mother and father are from the Philippines and intend to sell their home and move there with the children. A.G. reported that her parents' abuse of her intensifies in the Philippines, and that she does not like it there because it is too hot and because her aunt and cousins are mean and hit her and her siblings. She misses her siblings who live in the Philippines. C.G. confirmed that three of her adoptive siblings are in the Philippines with a cousin "who does not hit them, unlike the prior relative with whom they lived." The children in the Philippines have to share beds and towels, and live in the country, far away from the family's "attractive condo" there, but appear to be happy.
Ms. Montanez walked through the family's home. It was "exquisitely elegant and grand." A.G.'s room resembled a hotel room: impersonal, with no pictures. There were no child-appropriate decorations and no toys. It was decorated with a large vase, a burgundy velvet comforter, a small couch, and an elegant dresser. The only toys in the house — a bag of soiled stuffed animals — were in a downstairs closet, hidden behind other items. A.G.'s clothes had been boxed up to ship to the Philippines. Throughout the home inspection, mother made negative comments about A.G., such as "`That girl is just causing trouble for me, it's all a plan, she is so ungrateful.'"
Mother did not want to attend a team decisionmaking meeting concerning A.G., saying it would be "`a waste of my time, I don't think I will make it, I might just cancel that morning.'" Although mother did attend the meeting, she spoke negatively about A.G. the entire time, describing her as a "`spoiled little brat.'" She did not appear interested in A.G.'s well-being.
A.G. was placed with her older sister, C.G. At the June 25, 2010 detention hearing, the trial court issued a temporary detention order, finding a sufficient prima facie showing that it was contrary to A.G.'s welfare to stay in her parents' care. Monitored visits were ordered, as were family reunification services.
During A.G.'s first monitored visit with mother, mother made A.G. feel guilty by saying, "`Why did you do this to me, can't you see how much you are making me suffer? We can no longer be a family now, your brothers and sisters are mad at you, you need to tell me everything you are doing with [C.G.] and you better not let any men touch you!'" A.G. cried for the whole visit. Mother pinched A.G.'s elbow and told her, "`You should not have dry elbows like this . . . when I call you on the phone you have to tell me everything you do and everything that goes on[;] don't listen to anything that anyone tells you . . . .'" When A.G. tried to hug mother, mother refused to hug her, telling her "`You hurt me too much.'" Mother seemed uncaring and kept looking at her wristwatch during the visit.
Mother denies any abuse and believes C.G. has turned A.G. against her and put A.G. up to making false allegations. According to mother, C.G.'s personality changed once she attended nursing school, and she has acted erratically, including transferring thousands of dollars out of mother's bank account without permission. Mother had to sell a family home in Nevada to pay for C.G.'s debts. Mother believes that C.G. wants to prevent the family from relocating to the Philippines because she wants mother's money. C.G. admitted to running up her parents' credit cards, claiming she did so to stop her parents' abuse of her siblings; she said she would stop spending if they stopped hitting the children.
In August 2010, A.G. was placed with her maternal aunt, because C.G. could not provide long-term care as she intended to return to school. Maternal aunt did not believe that any abuse occurred, but agreed that she would protect A.G. Shortly thereafter, during a loving and appropriate monitored visit with her parents, A.G. told social worker Wendy Wagner that "she had made up the stories about her parents hitting her." She said her sister, C.G., had coaxed her into making up the stories. A.G. expressed her desire to return home.
Dependency Investigator Jill Kaufman interviewed C.G., advising her of A.G.'s changed story. C.G. reported that A.G. told her "she was tired of not having a regular family, and that `my friends have parents, I don't want to be without a mom.'" C.G. believed mother was pressuring A.G. to return home. Ms. Kaufman was skeptical of A.G.'s changed story, given maternal aunt's sympathy for mother and her desire to see the family reunited.
Mother attended counseling, and her counselor reported that her participation was regular and satisfactory. A.G. also participated in counseling, and her counselor confirmed that she was progressing well in therapy and was retracting her claims of abuse. Consequently, at the pretrial resolution conference, the court liberalized visitation to include unmonitored visits.
On October 20, 2010, mother and father pled no contest to an amended dependency petition, and the court sustained the following allegation under section 300, subdivision (b): "[A.G.'s] mother . . . has inappropriately disciplined the child including using inappropriate verbal statements. Further, the child's father . . . was aware of such discipline and has failed to protect. Such conduct by parents places child at risk of harm."
2. The Disposition Hearing
At the December 8, 2010 contested disposition hearing, A.G. initially denied that mother called her any bad names. However, when asked whether mother would "yell or scream" at her, she responded that "she'll just . . . call me a name or she will be calling me sometimes spoiled and sometimes hurt my feelings." She feels safe with her mother. She lied about being abused because she was mad at her parents because they did not allow her to attend a cheerleading competition. A.G. recorded her mother yelling at her because her sister C.G. told her to do it.
C.G. testified that mother screamed at and hit A.G. Recently, mother hit A.G. while she was in the shower. Father also yelled at her. C.G. denied that she told A.G. to lie about being abused.
Therapist Jeremee Bouchard testified that A.G. "is very adamant about wanting to go home. I have no objection. I have no red flags to report that would say I would be concerned about her going home." She reported that mother and daughter were progressing well in their conjoint counseling sessions. They had not really addressed emotional abuse during therapy, but would do so in the future.
Following the disposition hearing, the trial court ordered that A.G. remain detained, and that mother and father receive only monitored visits. This timely appeal followed.
Mother challenges the trial court's disposition order, contending A.G. should have been returned to mother's home after she recanted her claims of abuse. Mother also contends the trial court abused its discretion when it ordered monitored visitation instead of unmonitored visits. The department has moved to dismiss the portion of the appeal challenging the visitation order, reasoning that the appeal is moot because unmonitored visits have been ordered by the trial court. The department also moves to have the trial court's handwritten order liberalizing visitation taken into evidence. Mother has not opposed the department's motions, and we accordingly dismiss the challenge to the visitation order as moot. Further, we conclude that substantial evidence supports the trial court's removal order, and therefore affirm.
1. Removal Order
Mother contends the department did not meet its burden of proof for removal of A.G. after she recanted her claims of abuse. A child may not be removed from a parent or guardian unless there is clear and convincing evidence of "substantial danger to the physical health, safety, protection, or physical or emotional well-being of the minor if the minor were returned home, and there are no reasonable means by which the minor's physical health can be protected without removing the minor from the minor's parent's or guardian's physical custody." (§ 361, subd. (c)(1).) A trial court's removal order is reviewed under the substantial evidence standard of review, notwithstanding the evidentiary standard used at trial. (In re Heather A. (1996) 52 Cal.App.4th 183, 193; see also In re E.B. (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 568, 578 ["The clear and convincing standard was adopted to guide the trial court; it is not a standard for appellate review. [Citation.] The substantial evidence rule applies no matter what the standard of proof at trial"].)
"In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, we look to the entire record to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the juvenile court. We do not pass judgment on the credibility of witnesses, attempt to resolve conflicts in the evidence, or determine where the weight of the evidence lies. Rather, we draw all reasonable inferences in support of the findings, view the record in the light most favorable to the juvenile court's order, and affirm the order even if there is other evidence that would support a contrary finding. [Citation.] . . . The appellant has the burden of showing that there is no evidence of a sufficiently substantial nature to support the order. [Citations.]" (In re Cole C. (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 900, 915-916.)
Contrary to mother's contention, there is substantial evidence supporting A.G.'s removal from mother's custody, notwithstanding A.G.'s later denial that any abuse occurred. To summarize only some of the substantial evidence described above, the family has received no fewer than eight referrals of abuse over the years, yet the children repeatedly denied any abuse. Investigation of the 2007 referral revealed the children were afraid to report abuse because their parents told them they would go to jail, and the children did not want to be homeless. Adult daughter C.G. confirmed the children were afraid to report the abuse for this very reason. On these facts, the trial court could reasonably conclude that A.G. changed her story for reasons other than the truthfulness of her allegations, such as family pressure or fear of homelessness. Furthermore, much of the evidence of abuse was independent of A.G.'s claims, and was unaffected by her later retraction. For example, A.G. produced a tape recording of mother viciously berating her. Mother admitted to verbally abusing A.G., and others also confirmed her use of inappropriate language. C.G. testified that mother hit and yelled at A.G. It was for the trial court to determine how much weight to give to this testimony. (In re Cole C., supra, 174 Cal.App.4th at p. 916.)
Mother has consistently minimized her mistreatment of A.G., dismissed A.G. as a "spoiled brat," and made A.G. feel guilty for seeking help from authorities. There is a long history of abuse and recantation in the family. All of these facts create a very real possibility that A.G. could be subject to further mistreatment if returned to mother's care, and demonstrate that mother needs to learn proper disciplinary and communication skills, and to ensure that mother takes responsibility for her conduct. On the above record, we conclude that the removal order was supported by substantial evidence.
2. Visitation Order
Mother also challenges the order permitting only monitored visitation. The department seeks dismissal of this portion of the appeal, reasoning that the trial court has since liberalized visitation. The department also requests that the new visitation order be taken into evidence. A review of the trial court's order demonstrates that the court reconsidered its ruling on visitation, and entered a new order permitting unmonitored visitation. Therefore, mother has already received the relief sought in this appeal, and her failure to object to the new ruling and her lack of opposition to the department's motion evidence her assent to the order. (See Rules of Court, rule 8.54(c) ["failure to oppose a motion may be deemed a consent to the granting of the motions"]; City of Los Angeles v. County of Los Angeles (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 952, 958 ["an appellate court is to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried into effect. The appellate court cannot render opinions `"upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it. . . .'" [Citations.]"].) Accordingly, the department's motions are granted, and the challenge to the visitation order is dismissed.
The order is affirmed.


1. All further statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code unless otherwise indicated.
2011 Jun 15