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In re Matter of W.T.L.

District of Columbia Court of Appeals


December 31, 2002

IN THE MATTER OF W.T.L.; L.S., APPELLANT.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (N-486-00) (Hon. Kaye K. Christian, Trial Judge)

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, Newman and Nebeker, Senior Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nebeker, Senior Judge

Submitted November 13, 2002

Appellant, through counsel, appeals from the trial court's finding of fact that appellant's son, W.T.L., was neglected as defined by D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9) (1981). This case came on for trial upon a petition alleging neglect under paragraphs (B), (C), and (D) of § 16-2301,*fn2 which ultimately resulted in the trial court's committing W.T.L. into the charge of the Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA") of the Department of Human Services. Appellant appeals, contending that there was insufficient evidence to support the neglect finding. We reject that contention and affirm the trial court.

On review of a bench decision, we will not disturb a trial court's judgment or order, "except for errors of law unless it appears that the judgment is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it." D.C. Code § 17-305 (a) (2001). Here, there is no error of law, nor is the judgment plainly wrong or without evidence to support it.

Turning first to D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9) (B), as the government accurately points out, appellant was homeless. See generally In re T.R.J., 661 A.2d 1086 (D.C. 1995); In re R.L., 590 A.2d 123 (D.C. 1991). Additionally, appellant rarely visited the child, either simply to spend time with him or to ensure that he was receiving the proper care. Moreover, the testimony of the caretaker was sufficient to establish that appellant failed to provide for the child,*fn3 and appellant's receipt of food stamps and TANF and Medicaid benefits was sufficient to establish that appellant's failure to provide for the child was not due to lack of financial means, thus satisfying the definition contained in D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9) (B).

Looking next to D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9) (C), appellant herself testified to her persistent use of alcohol and heroin, which had just recently resulted in one arrest in the District and one in Virginia. W.I.L., the father, also testified to his long-time heroin addiction. This addiction caused appellant (and W.I.L.) to be repeatedly incarcerated and out of contact with the caretaker and the child.*fn4 Such a chemical dependency is sufficient to establish appellant's inability to discharge her parental responsibilities, thus satisfying the requirements of D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9) (C).*fn5

Lastly, we turn to the trial court's finding under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9) (D). Appellant argues that the caretaker's reluctance to tender W.T.L. into the custody of CFSA, and her failure to notify appellant of the intent to surrender the child, are of legal import and preclude a finding that W.T.L. was neglected under this provision. However, Section (D) merely requires that the parent be unable to care for the child, which was determined in the instant case, and that the caretaker declare the intent to so discontinue. Here, the caretaker stated that, although she wished to continue caring for W.T.L., she was unable to because of the demands of rearing her own children. That this process was initiated at the behest of CFSA is of no legal significance: appellant was unable to care for W.T.L., and the caretaker stated her intention to discontinue caring for him, thus satisfying the definition contained in D.C. Code s§ 16-2301 (9) (D). We, therefore, hold that the trial court did not err.

Affirmed.


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