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In re D.T.

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

December 26, 2019

IN RE D.T.; J.T., Appellant.

         Argued January 17, 2019

Page 594

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 595

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (NEG253-16), (Hon. Carol Ann Dalton, Reviewing Judge), (Hon. Janet Albert, Trial Judge)

         Kimberly Glassman for appellant.

         Rhondalyn Primes Okoroma, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren L. AliKhan, Solicitor General, and Caroline S. Van Zile, Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for appellee District of Columbia.

          Robyn Thorpe, guardian ad litem for appellee D.T., filed a statement in lieu of brief.

         Before Thompson, Beckwith, and McLeese, Associate Judges.

          OPINION

         Dissenting opinion by Associate Judge McLeese at page 605-06.

         Thompson, Associate Judge:

         This appeal is brought by J.T., the birth mother of now eleven-year-old D.T., who was removed from J.T.’s home in 2016 and adjudicated neglected. A Superior Court magistrate judge (the Honorable

Page 596

Janet Albert) initially established reunification with J.T. as D.T.’s permanency goal, but, several months later, changed D.T.’s permanency goal to concurrent goals of reunification and guardianship, and thereafter to a sole goal of guardianship. After an evidentiary hearing (which the court and the parties referred to as a Ta.L. hearing[1] ), the court subsequently changed D.T.’s permanency goal to adoption. This appeal by J.T. followed after the reviewing associate judge (the Honorable Carol Ann Dalton) affirmed that permanency-goal change.[2]

         J.T. argues that the record did not permit the Superior Court to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA" or "the agency") established a reasonable case plan, made reasonable efforts toward reunification of D.T. with J.T., and adequately explored kinship placement alternatives to adoption, or to find that J.T. failed to make adequate progress toward reunification.[3] For its part, appellee District of Columbia ("the District") urges us to hold that the Superior Court’s ruling was not a final, appealable decision and that we therefore lack jurisdiction over this appeal. The District further argues that even if this court has jurisdiction, J.T. has forfeited any claim that CFSA failed to provide adequate reunification services and that J.T.’s claims otherwise fail on the merits.

          For the reasons that follow, we conclude that we have jurisdiction over this appeal. We affirm the associate judge’s ruling upholding the permanency-goal change to adoption.

          I.

         D.T. was removed from J.T.’s custody on August 5, 2016, because of J.T.’s drug use (specifically, her "chronic use of PCP and marijuana," including while D.T. was in her care), her inadequate supervision of D.T., and her inappropriate conduct in disciplining D.T. (including using her unshod foot to "kick push[ ]" him in the face).[4] On September 9, 2016, J.T. stipulated that D.T. was neglected within the meaning of D.C. Code § 16-2301(9)(A)(ii), (iii) (2019 Supp.). The court committed D.T. to the custody of CFSA, set a goal of reunification with J.T., and ordered J.T. to undergo psychological and psychiatric evaluations (including an extended psychiatric evaluation by the Department of Behavioral Health ("DBH")), to comply with all recommendations

Page 597

from those evaluations, and to undergo regular drug testing. J.T. was allowed supervised visitation with D.T.

         On April 6, 2017, the trial court added a concurrent goal of guardianship, reasoning that J.T. "had not engaged in the [mental health and substance abuse] services identified to achieve reunification." On August 16, 2017, over the District’s objection that D.T.’s permanency goal should be changed to adoption, the court changed the goal from reunification to guardianship with Mr. S. At a permanency hearing on January 3, 2018, the District again asked the court to change the permanency goal to adoption.[5] On February 26, 2018, the court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether to order that goal change. The court heard testimony from CFSA social worker Daniel Morris and from J.T.[6]

          On February 27, 2018, Magistrate Judge Albert issued a "Goal Change Order" that changed the permanency goal to adoption. She found that the agency had provided J.T. with a reasonable plan to achieve the goal of reunification and expended reasonable efforts to help J.T. achieve reunification, but that J.T. had repeatedly tested positive for drugs or missed the required weekly drug testing, refused to participate in an Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration ("APRA") assessment or drug treatment, rejected the agency’s offers of assistance in arranging mental health services, lacked self-awareness about her drug addiction and mental health issues, was unable to complete the court-ordered extended mental health evaluations because of her lack of sobriety, refused to sign waivers to allow the agency to learn of her treatment plan and progress when she did begin to receive therapy, did not share with her therapist information about the neglect case, and had been unable to progress toward unsupervised visitation with D.T. because of her unaddressed mental health and substance abuse problems.

          J.T. thereafter appealed Magistrate Judge Albert’s decision. Associate Judge Carol Ann Dalton affirmed Magistrate ...


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