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In re K.A.

May 19, 2005


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Nos. J-1093-99, J-1337-03 & J-1946-02. Hon. Hiram E. Puig-Lugo, Trial Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Argued March 24, 2004

Before TERRY and FARRELL, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

These consolidated appeals present us with two fundamental issues: (1) whether the trial court can direct placement or order probation as a means of directing treatment after a delinquent juvenile has been committed to the custody of a public agency, and (2) whether the trial court can release a delinquent juvenile who has been committed to the custody of a public agency. The first issue arises in the cases of K.D. and L.C., in which the trial court directed placement and ordered probation. We conclude, in light of the 1993 amendment to D.C. Code § 16-2320 (c)(1) (1993 Supp.) and our decision in In re P.S., 821 A.2d 905 (D.C. 2003), that the court erred in directing placement and then ordering probation as a means of directing treatment in these two cases. K.A.'s case presents a somewhat different question, because in that case the trial court did not order probation or any further placement or treatment. Instead, the court simply closed the case, thereby effecting K.A.'s release. Given the legislature's repeal of D.C. Code §§ 16-2324 (b)-(d) (1993 Supp.) and our previous interpretation of D.C. Code § 16-2322 (a)(4) (2001) in In re P.S., we hold that the court did not have the power to close the case and release K.A. The trial court has only limited authority to veto DHS's decision to release a delinquent juvenile, and it cannot exercise that authority unless it has been expressly reserved in the commitment order and DHS decides that release is warranted. See In re P.S., 821 A.2d at 911. We therefore reverse all of the orders from which these appeals are taken and remand all of the cases for further proceedings.


A. K.D.'s Case

On September 23, 2003, K.D. was committed to the custody of the Youth Services Administration ("YSA")*fn2 of the Department of Human Services ("DHS") until the age of twenty-one.*fn3

The commitment was restrictive,*fn4 and the trial court recommended that K.D. remain at Oak Hill Youth Center pending placement "in a residential facility that can provide neurological rehabilitation."*fn5 However, at a commitment review hearing on December 1, 2003, the court vacated its original commitment and ordered that K.D. be placed in a shelter home because YSA had not yet placed K.D. in a residential facility. The court explained that the District of Columbia Code gave it the authority to vacate the commitment:

D.C. Code section 16-2322 (c) advises that any other dispositional order may be extended for additional periods of time upon motion of the director of social services if, after notice and hearing, the division, that is, the Court, finds that extension is necessary to protect the interest of the child. Subsection (f) of the same section of the Code begins: unless soon[er] . . . terminated, all orders of the division under this subchapter in force with respect to a child terminate when he reaches twenty-one years of age.*fn6

The language in those provisions recognizes the Court's authority to extend or terminate disposition orders. Based on the recognition of that authority combined with YSA's apparent inability to provide for the care and rehabilitation of [K.D.], as the law orders them to do, the disposition order entered September 23 is vacated. [K.D.] will be paced in a shelter home [pending a new disposition]. We will continue this matter for disposition.

Counsel for the District of Columbia made an oral motion for reconsideration and/or a stay of the trial court's order, but the court denied the motion and scheduled a new disposition hearing for January 27, 2004.

At an emergency hearing on December 3, 2003, the District asked the court to "vacate its order vacating the respondent's commitment." The District also informed the court that "YSA will be able to place the respondent immediately at Riverside Residential Treatment should the commitment order be reinstated." K.D.'s counsel argued that Riverside was an inappropriate facility and requested that K.D. be placed on probation at the Oak Mountain treatment facility. The District opposed this request, noting that it did not have a contract with Oak Mountain, which is located in Alabama. After hearing from both sides, the court explained why it had vacated the commitment:

. . . Now the whole purpose of the commitment was that . . . your agency provide [K.D.] with care and rehabilitation. And yes, there is case law that says that judges no longer can specify what the placement should be. But the Code, [section] 16-2322, recognizes the authority of [the] judge to extend disposition orders and to terminate disposition orders. So the fact that In re P.S. was decided has absolutely nothing to do with our ability to extend or terminate disposition orders. You know, it was based on that authority that I vacated the disposition. Because, you know what, you guys weren't doing anything. And you weren't doing anything for financial reasons.

K.D.'s counsel then asserted that the court also had authority to revoke the commitment under D.C. Code § 16-2324 because (1) YSA had made fraudulent representations to the court about K.D.'s placement and (2) newly discovered information about K.D.'s treatment showed that placement at a residential facility was no longer necessary.*fn7 After hearing further from K.D.'s counsel, the court denied the District's request and modified the December 1 order so that K.D. could be placed at Oak Hill pending a new disposition, which was rescheduled for December 15.

At the second disposition hearing on December 15, 2003, the District asked that K.D. "be recommitted to YSA for residential placement" at Riverside.*fn8 The court heard testimony from Dr. Pamela Blake, who discussed K.D.'s neurological evaluation and stated that Oak Mountain's treatment program would be better for K.D. The court also heard from Vanessa Portier, the Director of Social Services at Riverside, who described Riverside's facilities and treatment program. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court denied the District's request and placed K.D. on probation at Oak Mountain for a period of one year, which was "stayed until representatives from Oak Mountain residential facility [were] ready to pick up [K.D.] from the Oak Hill Youth Center." The court stated that the costs for the placement at Oak Mountain would be paid by Medicaid.

B. L.C.'s Case

On August 29, 2003, L.C. was committed to the custody of DHS until the age of twenty-one.*fn9 The commitment was restrictive,*fn10 and the trial court recommended that DHS keep L.C. at Oak Hill Youth Center pending placement in a residential facility. L.C.'s counsel had requested that L.C. be placed at Riverside, but the court said it did not have the authority to direct placement:

He's committed to YSA. If you can talk to them, you know I don't have authority; I can recommend things to YSA. If you want to call them up, call the intake people and say . . . I represent L.C., he's coming your way, this is the recommendation, consider this until residential is an option, fine with me.

But that's between you and YSA. I'm out of the picture now.

Then, at a subsequent review hearing on November 21, 2003, L.C.'s counsel asked the court to place L.C. on probation. Because L.C. was still at Oak Hill awaiting placement, the court decided instead to place L.C. in a group home:

This commitment is - well, let me put it this way. I am ordering that he be released from Oak Hill. I'm not vacating the commitment. And if you want to challenge me, challenge me. . . .

I am modifying the commitment to recommend that he be placed in a group home.

The District objected and asked the court not to modify the order, but the court replied that, "depending on how [L.C.] does from the next fifteen to thirty days, we'll decide whether or not this commitment will continue."

On December 15, 2003, a follow-up hearing was held to discuss L.C.'s status. During that hearing, the court expressed concern over the fact that L.C. had been at Oak Hill for four months awaiting a placement.*fn11 Counsel for the District responded that YSA was attempting to place L.C. and that "it takes time for the providers to get these assessments done." The court then stated that its options were either "to let [L.C.] sit there [at Oak Hill] getting worse or throw him out in the community and the same place he was when he came in." L.C.'s counsel stated that under In re A.A.I., 483 A.2d 1205 (D.C. 1984), "the court does have the authority to vacate or to change a placement where . . . [DHS is] not carrying out [its] responsibility, [and the court] certainly can do that post-In re P.S."*fn12

As additional support, counsel relied on D.C. Code ยง 16-2324, stating that "there is no way that . . . the court could have anticipated or predicted that the agency entrusted with [L.C.] would have . . . handled the situation in the way that it did in terms of it being quasi or newly discovered evidence." The District, ...

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