Facts: Petitioner Michael Jenkins’ daughter K.N.J. was removed from the custody of her mother and placed into foster care after suffering abuse. A subsequent dependency hearing presided over by a judge pro tempore resulted in the issuing of a judgment that K.N.J. was dependent (a judgment that K.N.J. had no parent, guardian, or custodian capable of adequately caring for her and that she was in circumstances constituting a danger of substantial damage to her psychological or physical development) with regard to her mother. The judge pro tempore also issued a default judgment of dependency with regard to Jenkins, whose whereabouts were unknown at the time. After a series of dependency review hearings presided over by a judge resulted in the continuation of court supervision, the Department of Social and Health Services petitioned the Superior Court for Snohomish County to terminate Jenkins’ parental rights. Jenkins moved to dismiss the termination petition, asserting that the initial finding of dependency was void for lack of consent to a judge pro tempore. The trial court rejected Jenkins’ motion and terminated his parental rights. Upon appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the termination of Jenkins’ parental rights, holding that although the initial finding of dependency was void insofar as Jenkins had not consented to have the issue adjudicated by a judge pro tempore as required by Article IV §7 of the Washington State Constitution, the subsequent dependency review orders constituted implicit findings of dependency that satisfied Washington Revised Code §13.34.180(1)’s requirement that the state prove that a child is dependent prior to terminating parental rights. Jenkins appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Washington.
Question(s): Was the initial finding of dependency void for Jenkins’ lack of consent to a judge pro tempore?
If so, did the subsequent dependency review orders constitute implicit findings of dependency that satisfied Washington Revised Code §13.34.180(1)’s requirement that the state prove that a child is dependent prior to terminating parental rights?
Conclusion: Justice Wiggins’ opinion for the Court affirmed the Washington Court of Appeals on alternate grounds, concluding that although the initial finding of dependency was void for Jenkins’ lack of consent to a judge pro tempore and although dependency review hearings cannot establish dependency as they are limited in purpose to reviewing the progress of the parties and determining whether court supervision should continue, the findings of fact made by the trial court during the termination hearing established dependency insofar as they established that Jenkins exhibited no effort to address his parental deficiencies and exhibited little interest in any of his children.
Petitioner: Michael Jenkins
(Counsel: Jennifer L. Dobson and Dana M. Lind)
Respondent: Department of Social and Health Services
(Counsel: Sarah Reyes, Melissa Lynn Nelson, and Michael Scott Majors)
Argument: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 2:30pm
[Source: TVW, http://tvw.org]
Audio: Court of Appeals Division I
Audio: Washington Supreme Court
Decided: Thursday, May 26th, 2011
Prevailing Party: Department of Social and Health Services (Respondent)
Court: Madsen2 Court (2011-)
Note: We post only slip opinion(s) as published at the time of the decision. Please consult Washington Reports printed volumes for the opinion(s) in their final form. Each opinion should appear next to the Justice who authored it.