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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Juvenile Court’s 90-Day Limit to Conduct Supervision or Custody Hearings Is Mandatory

Ohio law gives a juvenile court 90 days to conduct a dispositional hearing to decide a child’s placement in protective supervision or decide custody issues after authorities file complaints alleging the child is abused, neglected, or dependent, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today. If the hearing is not conducted within that timeframe, the case must be dismissed and authorities must start the process over, the Court concluded.

A unanimous Supreme Court found that a 90-day hearing requirement in R.C. 2151.35(B)(1) is mandatory and juvenile courts must dismiss such cases without prejudice if the courts are unable to comply. The ruling reversed Fifth District Court of Appeals decisions in separate cases involving two mothers.

Writing for the Court, Justice Judith L. French stated that state lawmakers set the strict hearing requirement to balance efforts to protect children against “the fundamental right of a parent to raise one’s own children.”

Juvenile Law Includes Limits
Ohio law authorizes juvenile courts to hear complaints alleging a child is abused, neglected, or dependent, and a juvenile court must conduct an adjudicatory hearing no later than 30 days after a complaint is filed. However, under R.C. 2151.23(A)(1), the time can be extended “for good cause shown,” up to a maximum of 60 days.

If the court finds a child is abused, neglected, or dependent, it must hold a dispositional hearing to determine protective supervision or issues of custody. The court can hold the dispositional hearing immediately after the adjudicatory hearing or set it for another time no more than 30 days later. The court also may extend the time to allow a party to obtain or consult a lawyer.

But R.C. 2151.35(B)(1) has a limit. The law states if the dispositional hearing is not held within 90 days of the filing of the complaint, the court, on its own, or by the motion  of any party or the child’s guardian ad litem, shall dismiss the complaint without prejudice.

Parents Challenge Delays
The Court considered two challenges from Richland County concerning a total of eight children.

The Richland County Children Services Board filed two separate complaints in April 2017 against a woman identified in court records as R.H. alleging her two children were abused, dependent, or neglected.

A juvenile court magistrate conducted an adjudicatory hearing in June 2017, and concluded the children were dependent. R.H.’s attorney stated the mother was ready to have the dispositional hearing that day to avoid delay. The magistrate decided to delay the hearing to gather more evidence .

A hearing date was set for August 2017, 107 days after children services filed the complaint. The woman’s attorney asked the complaint to be dismissed for failure to conduct the hearing within 90 days. The magistrate denied the request and granted temporary custody of the children to their paternal grandmother. The juvenile court adopted the magistrate’s decisions.

R.H. appealed to the Fifth District, which found the mother failed to follow the state’s Rules of Juvenile Procedure when requesting the delay. The appellate court also found the magistrate was justified in the delay to gather more information and to give R.H. an opportunity to cooperate with children services before deciding the disposition of the children.

Mother Takes Children Out of State
The second appeal involved the six children of B.S., including a boy identified as D.T. In January 2017, D.T.’s school notified children services that he had injuries, and he was transported to the hospital. Police arrested the B.S.’s then-boyfriend for suspected physical abuse of D.T.

In May 2017, children services filed six separate complaints alleging B.S.’s children were abused or dependent. A week after the charges were filed, the mother took the children to Kentucky. About two weeks later, the court ordered the children placed in temporary custody with children services, and case workers were sent to Kentucky, where B.S. voluntarily surrendered the children.

In July 2017, a magistrate began the adjudicatory hearings for the children, which included subsequent hearings in late August and October. B.S. asked the court to dismiss the cases because the magistrate did not hold the hearings by August 3, which was 90 days from the filing of the complaint.

The magistrate denied the request and found all six children were dependent and two were abused. B.S.’s attorney requested not to have the dispositional hearing that day, but set it for another day.

Before those hearings could begin, B.S. filed an objection with the juvenile court judge to the magistrate’s decision. The judge overruled the objections. The dispositional hearings took place in November 2017 and January and March 2018. Four of the children were placed in temporary custody of children services, and two with their paternal grandmother.

The juvenile court adopted the magistrate’s decision in April 2018, 339 days after the complaints were filed. B.S. appealed to the Fifth District, which concluded the 90-day hearing rule was “directory” and not mandatory. The Fifth District also found that the delay did not prejudice B.S. because she asked for the magistrate to schedule a future hearing rather than proceed with the dispositional hearing at the conclusion of the adjudicatory hearings.

The mothers appealed their cases to the Supreme Court, which consolidated the appeals after oral arguments to consider the claim that a juvenile court has only 90 days to conduct a dispositional hearing after a complaint is filed.

Juvenile Courts Have Limited Discretion
Juvenile courts can only exercise the powers conferred to them by the General Assembly, Justice French explained, and both R.C. 2151.35(B)(1) and the Juv.R. 34(a) contain essentially the same language requiring dispositional hearings within 90 days of the filing of a complaint.

The opinion stated the Court generally construes the word “shall” in a state law to be mandatory, but in some cases when “shall” is used with a time limit it has been considered directory. The Court noted that its 1946 State ex rel. Jones v. Farrar decision found a time limit in a law that fixes a time for an official to perform a duty is considered directory if it is “simply for convenience or orderly procedure.” But under the Court’s 1999 In re Davis decision, a time limit is mandatory if it is considered to be a “limitation upon the power of the officer,” the opinion noted.

R.C. 2151.35(B)(1) does contain a limit on the juvenile court’s authority by stating that if the court fails to conduct a hearing within 90 days, it must dismiss the case without prejudice, the Court noted. The opinion rejected the Fifth District’s conclusions that the parents either waived the right to have the hearing by asking for another date or by failing to comply with the juvenile rules. The Court said the procedural requirements cannot override the statute, and there is no statutory language that implies the 90-day requirement can be waived.

The Court noted the Fifth District and children services expressed concerns about the adverse consequences of mandating hearings within 90 days of complaints, including the burden of having to file new complaints and start the process over. The opinion stated it is not uncommon for children and parents to be left “in legal limbo” for months or even years while waiting for juvenile courts to process their cases.

“To alleviate delays, the General Assembly crafted a solution that balances the rights of parents with the interests of protecting children – it provided for dismissal of the complaint without prejudice, which allows an agency to refile a new complaint that very same day and marshal its evidence if it still has concerns about a child’s welfare.”

2018-1331, 2018-1375, 2018-1376, 2018-1377, 2018-1379, 2018-1380, and 2018-1381.In re K.M., Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-995.

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