Author: LegalEase Solutions
- What happens if the state does not initiate adjudication proceedings within 90 days after serving a dependency petition?
Even though the statute prescribes specific time limits within which dependency adjudication hearings shall be completed, the court may continue the initial dependency hearing for good cause or in extraordinary circumstances. However, the Court of Appeals has interpreted the rule to be directory rather than mandatory by stating that the Legislature did not intend to require automatic dismissal of dependency proceedings when the statutory time limit is exceeded. Therefore, missing a deadline would be a “procedural error” and this does not require a reversal in the absence of resulting prejudice, such as a showing that the outcome of the dependency proceeding would have been different if there had been no delay. However, even if the statute is directory, a proceeding may be dismissed for failure to comply with a statutory time limit if the defendant will be prejudiced thereby. Therefore, only if a parent is able to demonstrate prejudice from the juvenile court’s failure to comply with the deadlines in A.R.S. § 8–842(C) and Rule 55(B), the court may grant a dismissal.
Dependency Petition was filed requesting In Home Intervention (IHI) on May 22, 2014. A hearing on IHI was conducted on June 4, 2014; September 11, 2014; December 18, 2014. On December 23, 2014 a motion to rescind IHI was filed. On the same day, the DCS filed a Motion for Change of Physical Custody (out of home) along with a first amended dependency petition. Dependency trial commenced on March 27, 2015. On the same day an order was pronounced removing the children from the home. On July 10, 2015, the dependency trial continued and the children were adjudicated dependent.
The legislature has established time limits within which dependency adjudication hearings shall be completed. A.R.S. § 8–842(C). The relevant statue reads as follows:
The court may continue the initial dependency hearing for good cause, but, unless the court has ordered in-home intervention, the dependency adjudication hearing shall be completed within ninety days after service of the dependency petition. The time limit for completing the dependency adjudication hearing may be extended for up to thirty days if the court finds good cause or in extraordinary cases as prescribed by the Supreme Court by rule.
Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 8-842
As per the statute, the court may continue the initial dependency hearing for good cause. However, “[t]he court may continue a dependency adjudication hearing beyond the time prescribed by law only upon a finding of extraordinary circumstances.” Joshua J. v. Arizona Dep’t of Econ. Sec., 230 Ariz. 417, 419, 286 P.3d 166, 168 (Ct. App. 2012) (citing Juvenile Court 55(B)).
“On review of an adjudication of dependency,” the court usually “view the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the juvenile court’s findings.” Willie G. v. Ariz. Dep’t of Econ. Sec., 211 Ariz. 231, ¶ 21, 119 P.3d 1034, 1038 (App. 2005). An appellate court “generally will not disturb a dependency adjudication unless no reasonable evidence supports it.” Id.
- Statute prescribing dependency adjudication within a prescribed time limit – whether mandatory or directory?
In Joshua J., the father argued that the finding of dependency must be vacated because the juvenile court did not complete the dependency adjudication within the prescribed time limit. The Arizona Department of Economic Security (ADES) conceded that the juvenile court did not complete the dependency adjudication hearing within the ninety-day limit and did not make a finding of good cause/extraordinary circumstances. While interpreting the § 8–842(C) as merely “directory” rather than “mandatory,” the Court of Appeals noted the difference in the meaning intended by the legislature in using the words “shall” and “may” in a provision. According to the Court, “[t]he use of the word ‘shall’ in a statute usually indicates the legislature intended a mandatory provision.” Joshua J., 230 Ariz. at 421(citing Ins. Co. of N. Am. v. Superior Court (Villagrana), 166 Ariz. 82, 85, 800 P.2d 585, 588 (1990)). The Court noted that “‘[t]he essential difference between a mandatory and a directory provision is that failure to comply with a directory provision does not invalidate the proceeding to which it relates, while failure to follow a mandatory provision does.’” Id. (quoting HCZ Constr., Inc. 199 Ariz. at 364 n. 1, ¶ 9).
Here, the Court in Joshua J., was reluctant to place a mandatory interpretation on the word “shall,” stating that such an interpretation would “invalidate all proceedings after expiration of the statutory time limit for completion of the dependency adjudication hearing.” Id. at 423. The Court also concluded that “the Legislature did not intend to require automatic dismissal of dependency proceedings when the statutory time limit is exceeded.” Id. Even though the Joshua J. Court emphasized “that § 8–842 and Rule 55(B) impose real deadlines, not mere guidelines,” the Court held that “‘shall’ in A.R.S. § 8–842 and Rule 55(B) is directory rather than mandatory and a violation of the time limits does not automatically render void all subsequent proceedings.” Id. at 425.
- Demonstration of prejudice.
The Court in Joshua J. concluded by stating “that a parent, to obtain appellate relief, must demonstrate prejudice from the juvenile court’s failure to comply with the deadlines in A.R.S. § 8–842(C) and Rule 55(B).” Joshua J., 230 Ariz. at 424. The Court in Joshua J. further analysed the issue of prejudice in the context. The Court found the issue somewhat analogous to the context of “speedy trial” requirements for criminal prosecutions. Joshua J., 230 Ariz. at 423. In a criminal case, “a defendant who establishes a violation of the speedy trial requirements in our rules is not automatically entitled to a reversal on appeal.” Id. (citing State v. Vasko, 193 Ariz. 142, 143, ¶ 13, 971 P.2d 189, 190 (App. 1998)).
Thus in Joshua J., the Court held that a failure to meet those deadlines is “procedural error” that does not require reversal of a dependency adjudication in the absence of resulting prejudice, such as a showing “that the outcome of the dependency proceeding [probably] would have been different if there had been no delay.” Id. ¶¶ 21–22, 24–25.
- Delay in adjudication and extra ordinary circumstances.
In Jessyca P. v. Dep’t of Child Safety, No. 1 CA-JV 15-0040, 2015 WL 5438119, at *3 (Ariz. Ct. App. Sept. 15, 2015), the dependency proceedings were extraordinarily long because nearly 22 months elapsed after the filing of the dependency petition to pronounce an order by the superior court. The trial court noted that “[a]djudication of dependency as to mother and father has been protracted due to extraordinary circumstances including the notice of a judicial officer, discovery issues, the unavailability of counsel and witnesses, and scheduling conflicts.” Id.
The mother’s argument that the dependency should be dismissed because the adjudication was not made within 120 days, pursuant to A.R.S. § 8–842(C) (2015) was rejected by the Court of Appeals on the ground that the mother waived application of § 8–842(C) by agreeing to the original six-month delay in trial scheduling. Here, the Court reasoned its stand by a finding that the parties knew the newly assigned judge’s calendar was extremely crowded. Therefore, the parties voluntarily “waived time” to allow him to set the two half-days for trial as they told. Thus, according to the Court, the mother, having agreed to the delay, may not argue that the outcome of the trial must be undone because the delay prejudiced her. Even though the Mother argued that she objected to further delay during a court appearance, the Court noted that it was the occasion on which the court was forced to continue trial because the mother had failed to disclose her mental health records. Therefore, the Court held that the mother, after withholding those records, cannot complain of the resulting delay.
In the instant case, if the mother is able to show that she was prejudiced by the delay in not completing the dependency adjudication within the statutory time period, then she may be able to request a relief against the dependency order. A substantial prejudice to the mother must be a showing that the outcome of the dependency proceeding would have been different if there had been no delay. It is also pertinent to note that the mother’s acts should not constitute a waiver of time that preclude her from seeking the relief based on the resulting delay.