Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court that terminated Mother's parental rights to her infant son, J.C., holding that the circuit court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to terminate Mother's parental rights. After an adjudication hearing, the circuit court found that J.C. was neglected and deemed abandoned as an aggravating factor. A dispositional hearing was held and then continued. The hearing reconvened and then was continued a number of times due to Mother's failure to appear. Eventually, the circuit court entered an order terminating Mother's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to resolve the abuse and neglect petition because there was no evidence to show that any of the subject matter requirements of W. Va. Code 48-20-201(a) were satisfied. View "In re J.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court determining disposition of Petitioner's child without first allowing him a meaningful opportunity to be heard at the dispositional hearing, which resulted in the child being placed in the legal and physical custody of guardians, holding that Petitioner must be afforded a full and complete opportunity to present witnesses and to testify on his own behalf. Petitioner was the father of one child and the stepfather of the other child. The dispositional order at issue on appeal granted Petitioner a disposition in which parental rights were not terminated but the children were placed in the care, custody, and control of the guardians. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court erred when it divested him of his rights to parent his child without first allowing him a meaningful opportunity to be heard. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded the case for the limited purpose of affording Petitioner an opportunity to be heard at the dispositional hearing, which the circuit court had previously denied Petitioner, holding that the circuit court erred when it determined disposition regarding his child without first allowing him a meaningful opportunity to be heard at the dispositional hearing. View "In re T.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the "order of permanent placement" entered by the circuit court awarding custody of two children to Uncle and Aunt, holding that the circuit court erred in concluding that, as a matter of law, there exists, in the abuse and neglect context, a relative preference other than the preference afforded to grandparents and siblings. In selecting Children's Uncle and Aunt to be the children's permanent custodians, the circuit court determined that a "blood relative" preference exists in addition to the statutory preferences afforded to siblings and grandparents in abuse and neglect proceedings. Foster Parents appealed, arguing that there does not exist a preference for relatives in addition to the grandparent and sibling preferences established by the legislature. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded this case for entry of an order permanently placing the children with Foster Parents, holding (1) the circuit court erred by finding there exists a blood relative preference and relying on that preference as a basis for placing the children with Aunt and Uncle; and (2) the best interests of the children would best be promoted by allowing them to remain in Foster Parents' home. View "In re K.L." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order that affirmed a family court order denying the petition for modification filed by Mother seeking to relocate with her children to Kentucky, holding that the lower courts did not properly apply the provisions of W. Va. Code 48-9-403 when denying Mother’s petition to relocate with her children. The family court denied Mother’s request for relocation, and the circuit court upheld the denial. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for entry of an order granting Mother’s petition for modification and establishing a new parenting plan, holding (1) the lower courts committed reversible error when they failed to consider evidence of caretaking functions when calculating custodial responsibility; and (2) because the unrebutted evidence showed that Mother’s relocation was legitimate and in good faith, the lower courts clearly erred in denying Mother’s request. View "Nicole L. v. Steven W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In this negligence case, the Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying the motion to dismiss filed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources petitioners (DHHR Petitioners), holding that the DHHR Petitioners were entitled to qualified immunity. Respondents filed a complaint against the DHHR alleging that the DHHR negligently failed and refused to pursue subsidized guardianship for the infant in this case and negligently failed to take appropriate action in the best interest of that infant to obtain permanency and a final disposition. Respondents further alleged that, due to the DHHR’s failure, they were forced to hire counsel and file a petition for guardianship and that the infant was unjustly denied a monthly subsidy for ten years due to the actions of the DHHR Petitioners. The circuit court denied the DHHR Petitioners’ motion to dismiss, finding that qualified immunity did not bar Respondents’ claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that no basis for piercing the DHHR Petitioners’ qualified immunity existed. View "West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources v. V.P." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s order terminating Mother’s custodial rights but leaving intact her parental rights, holding that the circuit court’s account of the evidence was plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety. Father was granted sole custody of the minor child in this case. Thereafter, the circuit court terminated the custodial rights of Mother but left intact Mother’s parental rights to the child. On appeal, Father argued that Mother’s parental rights should have been terminated based on the circuit court’s factual findings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no reason to disturb the circuit court’s dispositional ruling. View "In re B.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s order terminating Petitioner’s parental rights to his three minor children despite concluding three months earlier that Petitioner had not abused or neglected them, holding that the circuit court erred by terminating Petitioner’s parental rights without first adjudicating him as an abusive or neglectful parent. Petitioner was serving a prison sentence for first-degree and was not eligible for parole until 2029. In 2018, the circuit court concluded that, although it explicitly found that Petitioner had not abandoned his children at the earlier adjudicatory hearing, the children’s best interests required termination of Petitioner’s parental rights. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s judgment, holding that where the circuit court impermissibly terminated Petitioner’s parental rights without first adjudicating him an abusive or neglectful parent, the circuit court lacked the jurisdiction to enter those portions of its order purporting to terminate Petitioner’s parental rights. View "In re A.P.-1" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court terminating Father’s parental rights to his daughter, A.N., when he was otherwise deemed a fit parent suitable to care for his son, C.N., holding that there was plain error in the circuit court’s decision to return C.N. to Father’s care, custody, and control. On appeal, Father argued that the circuit court erred by terminating his parental rights to A.N. because he was otherwise found to be a fit parent through reunification with C.N. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the circuit court’s order terminating Father’s parental rights to A.N. but not to C.N. contained critical inconsistencies between specific factual findings and the dispositions ordered. While the circuit court did not err in deciding to terminate Father’s parental rights to A.N., the circuit court was lacking important evidence necessary for determining Father’s parental fitness to parent C.N. View "In re A.N." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court granted the writ of prohibition sought by Foster Parents and remanded this case with directions to the circuit court to vacate its order granting Biological Parents post-dispositional improvement periods in excess of statutory time limitations, to grant Foster Parents’ motion to intervene, and to schedule this matter for disposition. After eight weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, J.L. was placed into foster care with Foster Parents. Biological Parents admitted to abuse and neglect, and a post-adjudicatory improvement period was ordered for each. Foster Parents moved to intervene, but the circuit court denied the motion. Upon the request of the guardian ad litem to revoke Biological Parents’ improvement periods, the circuit court awarded a six-month post-dispositional improvement period to Biological Parents. The Supreme Court granted Foster Parents’ requested writ of prohibition, holding (1) Foster Parents were absolutely entitled to participate in all court proceedings by virtue of W. Va. 49-4-601(h); (2) foster parents are entitled to intervention as a matter of right when the time limitations contained in W. Va. Code 49-4-605(b) and/or 49-4-610(b) are implicated; and (3) upon issuance of the writ, the circuit court is directed to schedule this matter for disposition at its earliest opportunity. View "State ex rel. C.H. v. Honorable Laura V. Faircloth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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At issue in this proceeding was whether, when an infant who is born alive but dies during the pendency of an abuse and neglect proceeding and the infant is the only child in the home, the matter may proceed to an adjudicatory hearing and the deceased child be found and adjudicated to be an abused or neglected child. Here an infant child was born with opiates in its system as a result of Mother’s prenatal drug use. The infant was treated for severe neurological and respiratory conditions based on a diagnosis of drug-affected birth. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) filed a petition against Mother and Father, alleging that the infant was a neglected and abused child. After the circuit court transferred temporary custody of the infant to the DHHR, the infant died. The parents moved to dismiss the abuse and neglect case based on the infant’s death. The court refused to dismiss the case but certified questions for the Supreme Court’s resolution. The Court answered the first question as set forth above. The Court further answered that, under the circumstances of this case, the guardian ad litem should remain a party to the proceeding to advocate for the rights of the deceased child. View "In re I.M.K." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law