Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Littman v. Cacho

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

July 21, 2016

Gwendolyn Littman, Appellant,
v.
Andrew Cacho, Appellee.

          Submitted April 15, 2016

          Amended August 11, 2016 [1]

         Appeal from the Superior Court Of the District of Columbia (DRB-3197-03) (Hon. Jennifer Di Toro, Trial Judge) (Hon. Anthony Epstein, Motions Judge) (Hon. Craig Iscoe, Motions Judge)

          Gwendolyn Littman, Pro Se.

          No brief was filed for appellee.

          Before Fisher and Beckwith, Associate Judges, and Newman, Senior Judge.

          Newman, Senior Judge

         On July 12, 2013, Judge Di Toro issued the "Second Amended Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order of Permanent Custody" (the "July 2013 Custody Order"), which provided, inter alia, that appellant Gwendolyn Littman would have "reasonable rights of visitation [with her grandson A.L.], to be arranged by the parties, and to include overnight visitation by agreement of the parties." Subsequently, Judge Iscoe terminated Littman's visitation rights with A.L. in an Order Modifying "Second Amended Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order of Permanent Custody" (the "Modification Order"). In this appeal, Littman claims that the trial court erred as a matter of law in terminating her visitation rights with A.L. and asks us to "reverse the trial [c]ourt and rule in her favor." We hold that the trial court relied on erroneous legal principles and therefore abused its discretion in terminating Littman's visitation rights. Consequently, we vacate the Modification Order and reinstate the July 2013 Custody Order.

         I. Facts

         A.L. was born in April of 2002, after which he lived with his mother and Littman. His mother passed away in October of 2003, and on November 14, 2003, Littman successfully sought a court order for custody of A.L.[2] A.L. continued to live with Littman until February of 2004, when custody was transferred to his father, appellee Andrew Cacho, by court order.[3] With Cacho's consent, Littman filed a motion to modify custody on November 19, 2004, and regained custody over A.L. pursuant to a March 4, 2005, court order. Cacho later sought to modify the order granting Littman custody of A.L., filing two motions-one on February 21, 2006, and the other on March 16, 2007-to modify custody. After more than seven years of litigation on the motions, during which A.L. remained in Littman's custody while visiting with Cacho, Judge Di Toro ultimately granted the motions and, in the July 2013 Custody Order, awarded Cacho primary physical and sole legal custody of A.L., with "reasonable rights of visitation, to be arranged by the parties, and to include overnight visitation by agreement of the parties" to Littman.

         A little over a year later, Littman filed the first of several motions for contempt, alleging that Cacho refused to allow her to see A.L. in violation of the July 2013 Custody Order. In response, Judge Epstein issued an Order Scheduling Hearing, in which he set a hearing date for Littman's motion for contempt[4] and informed the parties that he would "also address [at the hearing] whether Ms. Littman's visitation rights should be terminated as inconsistent with Mr. Cacho's parental rights."

         As for why he was considering terminating Littman's visitation rights, Judge Epstein explained that he had doubts about whether the July 2013 Custody Order complied with the requirements of the District's third party custody statute. He noted that the statute (a) provides the only circumstances in which the court can "order a parent to allow visitation by a third party"; (b) establishes that, absent parental consent to third party custody, "there is a rebuttable presumption . . . that custody with the parent is in the child's best interests"; and (c) requires a third party seeking custodial rights to rebut the presumption of parental custody by clear and convincing evidence before the court may grant custodial rights to the third party. Despite this statutory requirement, Judge Epstein observed that the order granting Littman visitation with A.L. "does not include an express finding that Ms. Littman rebutted the presumption of parental custody by clear and convincing evidence, " an omission he considered significant enough to raise serious doubts about the validity of the July 2013 Custody Order insofar as it granted Littman visitation with A.L.[5]

         At the eventual hearing on Littman's motions for contempt, Judge Iscoe followed through on the plan to address the validity of the prior order granting Littman visitation with A.L. Citing this court's decision in Ruffin v. Roberts, 89 A.3d 502 (D.C. 2014), Judge Iscoe stated that the "trial court does not have authority to order third-party visitation" and thus that "there cannot be third-party visitation ordered in this case." Consequently, he orally denied Littman's motions for contempt "because contempt of Court is for willful violation of a lawful court order" and "[i]n this case, the court order is not lawfully imposed."[6] Thereafter, consistent with the discussion at the hearing, Judge Iscoe issued a written order holding, based on Ruffin, that the trial court "is without authority to require defendant-father Mr. Cacho to allow third-party Gwendolyn Littman visitation with [A.L.]" and ordered that "Littman is no longer entitled to Court-ordered visitation with [A.L.]" Judge Iscoe explained that "this order is not intended to discourage Mr. Cacho from voluntarily allowing Ms. Littman to visit with her grandson." Littman timely filed a notice of appeal.

         II. Discussion

         A. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.