Tuesday, November 17, 2009

child abuse - dependency - appeal - aggrieved party

In the Interest of J.G., a minor - Superior Court - November 13, 2009


County child welfare agency (CWA) was not an "aggrived party" under PRAP 501 and did not have standing to appeal a lower court decision holding that the subject child was dependent, but failing to specify that the child's parents had committed the abuse.

CWA petitioned the court for a dependency order. It did not request a specific finding that the parents had abused the child. The lower court refused to make such a finding, given the fact that the child had been under the control of both the parents and a babysitter during the period when the abuse had taken place, thus preventing the application of the presumption in 23 Pa. C.S. 6381.

"Although a prevailing party may disagree with the trial court’s legal reasoning or findings of fact, the prevailing party’s interest is not adversely affected by the trial court’s ultimate order because the prevailing party was meritorious in the proceedings below.....Under Pa.R.A.P. 501, “[o]nly an aggrieved party can appeal from an order entered by a lower court.” ...This Court has consistently held that for purposes of Pa.R.A.P. 501, “[a] party is ‘aggrieved’ when the party has been adversely affected by the decision from which the appeal is taken. A prevailing party is not ‘aggrieved’ and therefore, does not have standing to appeal an order that has been entered in his or her favor.”

There is no statutory provision in the Child Protective Services Law or the Juvenile Act to suggest that the trial court must make a specific finding as to which caretaker perpetrated the abuse in order to adjudicate a dependent. These are two separate inquires. Where, as here, the evidence is inconclusive as to who had control or supervision over the child at the time of the abuse, the presumption in 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6381(d) is inherently self-rebutting, and applying it to one or both persons alleged to be the perpetrators would be arbitrary and capricious in the absence of a credibility determination and a factual finding by the trial court to the contrary.