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In re A.R.

June 19, 2008

IN RE A.R., APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (NEG17-03) (Hon. Odessa F. Vincent, Trial Judge).

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

Argued June 6, 2008

Before REID, KRAMER and FISHER, Associate Judges.

Appellant, A.R. appeals the trial court's September 6, 2006, order closing her neglect case, sua sponte, after she reached her eighteenth birthday. We conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to base its order on a correct legal principle, the need to safeguard the child's welfare, or the best interest of the child standard. Hence, we are constrained to reverse the trial court's order, and we remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

On June 1, 2006, the trial court decided, sua sponte, to close A.R.'s neglect case.*fn1 The court ordered the District and the Child and Family Services agency ("CFSA") to make preparations to close the case, effective July 1, 2006, but did not give reasons for terminating A.R.'s commitment to the care of CFSA. However, after a permanency hearing, held on June 5, 2006, the trial court docketed another order declaring, in part:

[A]ll services have been rendered. The conditions of neglect have been ameliorated. Additionally, the respondent, who is 18 years, has not cooperated with the service plan in that she refuses to comply with the rules of the group home, and she continues to abscond.

While the trial court subsequently extended the closing date to September 6, 2006, it steadfastly adhered to its decision to close A.R.'s case, despite the pleas of attorneys for K.R. (A.R.'s mother), those of the government's counsel, as well as A.R. herself, that closing the case was not in A.R.'s best interest. Nor did A.R.'s later motion for reconsideration persuade the trial court either to abandon its determination to close A.R.'s case, or even to consider seriously whether termination of A.R.'s commitment was in her best interest. Rather, during hearings on June 5 and 29, 2006, the court repeatedly focused on A.R.'s failure to comply with its orders that she not violate the curfews of her placement facilities, and that she not abscond from the facilities in which she had been placed. For example, on June 5, the court asserted:

I seem to recall that we have had an ongoing problem with abscondance on the part of A.[R.].

It seems to me that if she can maintain herself for two weeks on her own, that she no longer needs our assistance. So I need a close out plan and I'm going to give you 30 days . . . . I've told her repeatedly that I am simply not going to tolerate repeated absences. I've told her that. After I told her that, she still had absences and I let that go. I'm not letting it go this time.

She can't disappear for two weeks and refuse to tell her caretaker . . . [CFSA], where she is . . . . I'm sorry. Let me say this one more time. I have considered this. I have given it a great deal of consideration and I do not take this action lightly. However, repeatedly, she has violated this Court's order. July 1st.

At an early point in the hearing on June 29, 2006, the trial court articulated its intent to close A.R.'s case on that very day. When the government attorney broached A.R.'s continuing needs and her current situation, the trial court returned to the theme of A.R.'s failure to obey court orders:

[S]he decided voluntarily to absent herself from her placement and not to tell CFSA where she is . . . . [a]fter I repeatedly told her not to run away . . . .

I've told her. It's not as though I have not repeatedly told her what I wanted her to do, and all I wanted her to do was not to disrupt ...


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