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In re J.S.

July 21, 2009

IN THE INTEREST OF: J.S., A MINOR, APPEAL OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY OFFICE OF CHILDREN YOUTH AND FAMILIES, APPELLANT
IN RE: J.S., A MINOR,
APPEAL OF: M.D., NATURAL MOTHER,: APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order Entered September 18, 2008, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Juvenile Division, at No. 76151-B. Appeal from the Order Entered September 18, 2008, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Juvenile Division, at No. JV 05-2196.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bowes, J.

BEFORE: BOWES, DONOHUE and POPOVICH, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 In this consolidated appeal, the Allegheny County Office of Children and Youth and Families ("CYF") and M.D. ("Mother") appeal from the order entered on September 18, 2008, wherein the juvenile court granted K.C. and J.C. ("Foster Parents") permission to intervene in an ongoing dependency proceeding. We reverse.

¶ 2 The facts and procedural history are not in dispute. CYF became involved with J.S. on the day he was born, September 16, 2005, after he and Mother tested positive for cocaine. The child's father, C.S. ("Father"), subsequently admitted that he also used cocaine two or three times per week. Mother and Father (collectively referred to as "Parents") never married, and they maintain separate residences.*fn1 J.S. was placed temporarily with Foster Parents, his paternal aunt and uncle. On September 21, 2005, the juvenile court entered a shelter order directing that J.S. remain in Foster Parents' care. J.S. never returned to either parent's custody. Thereafter, on October 19, 2005, the juvenile court adjudicated J.S. dependent pursuant to section 6302(1) of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 6302(1). Parents' objectives under the Family Service Plan ("FSP") included completing: 1) drug and alcohol treatment; 2) mental health treatment; 3) a parenting program, and 4) obtaining suitable housing. Parents also were required to submit random drug screens and attend weekly supervised visitation with J.S. The initial placement goal was reunification; however, after Parents achieved only minimal compliance with the FSP objectives, the goal was changed to adoption on October 19, 2006.

¶ 3 After CYF filed an unsuccessful petition to involuntarily terminate parental rights and this Court affirmed the orphans' court's order denying relief, the juvenile court ordered updated interactional evaluations between J.S. and Parents and an interactional evaluation between J.S. and Foster Parents. The juvenile court also ordered visitation to occur at Mother's home. The placement goal remained adoption.

¶ 4 On July 18, 2008, Mother filed a motion to compel CYF to comply with the juvenile court's order directing that visitation occur in Mother's home, and she requested unsupervised visitation. On July 25, 2008, the juvenile court granted Mother's motion to compel, but it denied her request for unsupervised visitation. Thereafter, on August 22, 2008, the juvenile court entered a permanency review order, wherein it changed J.S.'s permanency goal from adoption to subsidized permanent legal custodianship ("SPLC") pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 6352(a)(2.1) and (f.1)(3).*fn2 In preparation for SPLC and to address concerns raised during the prior interactional evaluation, the juvenile court also directed the foster mother to undergo an individual mental health evaluation with Allegheny Forensic Associates.

Neither Parents nor CYF appealed from the August 22, 2008 order changing J.S.'s placement goal to SPLC.

¶ 5 During the August 22, 2008 permanency hearing, Foster Parents presented a petition to intervene in the dependency proceedings pursuant to Pa.R.J.C.P. 1133 and Pa.R.C.P. 2328. The petition also requested permission to access the juvenile court's record. Mother, Father, and CYF objected to Foster Parents' intervention. The juvenile court took the matter under advisement, and on September 18, 2008, it granted Foster Parents' petition to intervene and permitted access to the juvenile court record. Mother filed a timely notice of appeal on October 9, 2008. CYF filed notice of its appeal on October 20, 2008. The juvenile court entered orders on October 15 and 23, 2008, directing Mother and CYF, respectively, to file concise statements of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Mother complied on October 30, 2008. CYF complied on November 3, 2008. This Court consolidated the appeals sua sponte.

¶ 6 Mother and CYF both allege the juvenile court erred in granting Foster Parents permission to intervene in the dependency proceedings. Neither Foster Parents nor the guardian ad litem filed a brief with this Court. The juvenile court did not address the merits of the arguments in its Rule 1925(a) opinion. Instead, it concluded that the September 18, 2008 order was interlocutory, and therefore, both appeals should be quashed. See Trial Court Opinion, 11/10/08, at 1.

¶ 7 Since the propriety of the juvenile court's order granting Foster Parents' motion to intervene involves a question of law, our standard of review is de novo. In re L.C., II, 900 A.2d 378, 380-81 (Pa.Super. 2006) (issue regarding standing to participate in dependency proceeding is a question of law warranting plenary review). However, before we address the merits of the underlying issue, we first must determine whether the appeal is properly before this Court.

¶ 8 "Ordinarily, an order permitting intervention is interlocutory and not appealable." In re Manley, 451 A.2d 557, 559 n.5 (Pa.Super. 1982). However, in the case at bar, Mother and CYF both assert that the order is appealable pursuant to the collateral order doctrine, which our Supreme Court codified into Pa.R.A.P. 313. Rule 313 provides as follows:

(a) General rule. An appeal may be taken as of right from a collateral order of an administrative agency or lower court.

(b) Definition. A collateral order is an order separable from and collateral to the main cause of action where the right involved is too important to be denied review and the question presented is such that if review is postponed until ...


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