C.A. 3rd

The Third Appellate District granted a petition for extraordinary writ. The court held that a provision allowing the dependency court to bypass reunification services to a parent based on the prior termination of services as to a sibling or half sibling does not apply where the prior termination of services involved the same dependent child, and not a sibling or half sibling.

The Butte County Department of Employment and Social Services filed a dependency petition as to 16-month-old S.B. The dependency court sustained the petition and ordered reunification services for both parents.

The court later terminated services to the minor’s father, J.A. Services for the minor’s mother were continued, and mother and child were eventually successfully reunited.

A year later, the county filed a nondetaining petition due to the mother’s relapse into substance abuse and failure to participate in her voluntary case plan.

The dependency court ordered the minor detained and sustained the petition.

The county recommended that J.A. be denied reunification services.

The dependency court denied services to J.A., finding that denial of services was authorized under Welf. & Inst. Code § 361.5(b)(10), as construed in In re Gabriel K. (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 188.

The court of appeal granted J.A.’s petition for extraordinary writ, holding that the dependency court erred in denying him reunification services under § 361.5(b)(10).

Section 361.5(b)(10) permits a dependency court to deny a parent reunification services when it finds, among other things, that there was a prior order terminating services “for any siblings or half siblings of the child” due to the parent’s failure to reunify “with the sibling or half sibling” after that “sibling or half sibling” was removed from the parent’s care. Gabriel K. found § 361.5(b)(10) to be ambiguous and construed it as applying whenever there had been a past failure to reunify, even where that failure involved the same minor who was now the subject of dependency proceedings.

In the court’s view the construction stated in Gabriel K. was incorrect. The court agreed with In re B.L. (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 1111 that the language in § 361.5(b)(10) is unambiguous, In re B.L. limited application of the subdivision to cases where there was a previous termination of services to a “sibling or half sibling.” It thus did not apply where, as here, the same child was twice the subject of dependency proceedings and services were terminated in the prior proceedings.

The dependency court erred in relying on § 361.5(b)(10) in denying services to J.A. The court vacated the dependency court order and remanded for a new disposition hearing to determine whether reunification services would be offered to J.A. or denied on some other ground.