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In re E.O.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 30, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF E.O., A MINOR APPEAL OF: A.O., FATHER IN THE INTEREST OF: B.O., A MINOR APPEAL OF: A.O., FATHER

          Appeal from the Order Entered August 3, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Family Court at No(s): CP-51-DP-0000127-2017, CP-51-DP-0000228-2017

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., DUBOW, J., and PLATT [*], J.

          OPINION

          LAZARUS, J.

         A.O. (Father) appeals from the orders, entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, finding him in contempt[1] for violating a visitation order in an underlying dependency proceeding and ordering him to serve seven days of incarceration. After careful review, we vacate and remand for further proceedings.

         At a January 2017[2] shelter care hearing, legal custody of Father's minor children, E.O. and B.O. (Children), was transferred to the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS); they were placed in a foster home. In February 2017, Children were adjudicated dependent; the trial court ordered Father have weekly, supervised, line-of-hearing visits with Children, at Children's discretion, at the Community Umbrella Agency (Agency).[3] At an August 3, 2017 permanency review hearing, the trial court found Father in contempt for violating the visitation order after Children told their assigned social worker that Father calls them on the telephone ten times a day and was meeting with them after court appearances.[4] At the conclusion of the hearing, the court ordered Father to immediately serve seven days of incarceration for contempt.[5] The court ordered both parents to continue with supervised visits at the Agency, at the sole discretion of Children. On August 10, 2017, the court held a hearing, stating that the "case was brought back today only to release Father from incarceration at CFCF. Father was held in contempt in violation of court order at the last hearing on 8/3/2017."

         Father filed a timely notice of appeal from the court's contempt order and a court-ordered Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement of errors raised on appeal.[6] He raises the following issues for our consideration:

(1) Whether the trial court erred by finding Father in criminal contempt, rather than civil contempt.
(2) Whether the trial court erred by sentencing Father for direct criminal contempt rather than indirect criminal contempt.
(3) Whether the trial court erred by failing to provide Father with all necessary [c]onstitutional protections and safeguards required for criminal defendants.
(4) Whether the trial court erred by failing to establish Father's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
(5) Whether the trial court erred by failing to sentence Father in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Appellant's Brief, at 7.

Contempt of court may be classified as civil or criminal in nature. The distinction between the two categories lies in the purpose behind the court's finding of contempt. If the dominant purpose of the court is to prospectively coerce the contemnor into compliance with the court's directive, the adjudication is one of civil contempt. However, if the court's dominant purpose is to punish the contemnor for disobedience of the court's order, the adjudication is one of criminal contempt.

In the Interest of C.W., 960 A.2d 458, 466 (Pa. Super. 2008) (emphasis added), citing Pruitt, ...


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