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In re Petition of P.D.J.K.

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

April 26, 2018

In re Petition of P.D.J.K., J.W., Appellant.

          Submitted April 3, 2018

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (ADA-117-16) (Hon. Carol Ann Dalton, Reviewing Judge), (Hon. Rahkel Bouchet, Magistrate Judge)

          Adriane R. Marblestein-Deare was on the brief for appellant J.W.

          Ronald A. Colbert was on the brief for petitioner/appellee P.D.J.K.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren L. AliKhan, Solicitor General, Stacy Anderson, Acting Deputy Solicitor General, and Pamela Soncini, Assistant Attorney General, were on the brief for appellee the District of Columbia.

          Karen A. Bower filed a statement in lieu of brief for appellee J.J.

          Stacey Boehm-Russell, guardian ad litem, filed a statement in lieu of brief for respondent/appellee S. W.

          Before Glickman and Fisher, Associate Judges, and Washington, Senior Judge.

          FISHER, ASSOCIATE JUDGE.

         Appellant J.W. appeals the decision of the Superior Court to approve the adoption of her daughter S.W. without her consent. She primarily contends that the adoption trial was fundamentally unfair and that the magistrate judge abused her discretion in weighing the evidence. We disagree and affirm.

         I. Background

         S.W. was born on February 4, 2014. Appellant J.W. is her biological mother and J.J is her biological father. When S.W. was nearly eight months old, the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA") removed her from J.W.'s care "after J.W. was found incoherent and under the influence of drugs." On September 30, 2014, CFSA placed S.W. in the care of her paternal grandmother, P.D.J.K. A few weeks later the court adjudicated S.W. a neglected child and set an initial permanency goal of reunification with J.W. However, on September 29, 2015, the court changed the permanency goal to adoption due to J.W.'s failure to address her substance abuse, achieve emotional stability, and improve her caretaking skills. After the change of permanency goal, P.D.J.K. filed a petition to adopt S.W. on February 12, 2016. An adoption trial was originally set for January 2017 but rescheduled, at J.W.'s request, for May 15 and 19, 2017.

         Although the father consented to the adoption of S.W. by P.D.J.K. (his mother) and the guardian ad litem supported the adoption petition, J.W. did not. In March 2017, after this court's decision in In re Ta.L., 149 A.3d 1060 (D.C. 2016) (en banc), J.W. requested an evidentiary hearing on whether the permanency goal should be changed. A hearing was held before Magistrate Judge Rahkel Bouchet on May 15, 2017, the date previously scheduled for the adoption trial to begin. The court heard testimony from three CFSA social workers who had provided services to the family in the year preceding the goal change. J.W.'s counsel did not call any witnesses and J.W. did not attend the hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing Judge Bouchet announced that she would "maintain the goal of adoption" and she issued a written Order on May 30, 2017. J.W. did not appeal that decision.

         Judge Bouchet then held a trial on P.D.J.K.'s adoption petition on May 19, 2017, one of the previously scheduled dates. P.D.J.K. and S.W.'s current CFSA social worker each testified during trial, but J.W. was not present and her counsel did not call any witnesses. After considering "the entire record in this matter" in addition to the testimony presented during the adoption trial, Judge Bouchet found by "clear and convincing evidence" that J.W. was an unfit parent, unable "to meet the daily physical, and mental, and emotional needs of herself, let alone the requirements to meet the needs of the minor child." Judge Bouchet also found that it was in the best interests of S.W. "to be adopted by the petitioner, who she ha[d] resided with for the past two years, and who ha[d] been maintaining and meeting her needs." The court issued a final decree of adoption on July 13, 2017, and J.W. filed a motion for review. Associate Judge Carol Ann Dalton reviewed the record and found that J.W. had not been denied "an impartial and fundamentally fair proceeding" and that Judge Bouchet did not "err or abuse her discretion by granting the adoption petition."

         II. ...


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