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A.C. v. State, Department of Children and Families

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

November 6, 2019

A.C., the Mother, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, Respondent.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Petition for writ of certiorari to the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Carolyn Bell, Judge; L.T. Case No. 50-2016-DP-000392 JK.

          Antony P. Ryan, Regional Counsel, and Richard G. Bartmon, Assistant Regional Counsel, Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, West Palm Beach, for petitioner.

          Andrew Feigenbaum of Children's Legal Service, West Palm Beach, for respondent.

          Thomasina F. Moore, Statewide Director of Appeals, and Laura J. Lee, Senior Attorney, Tallahassee, for Florida Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Program.

          May, J.

         A mother petitions for a writ of certiorari to quash a case plan order that requires her to submit to a parental fitness evaluation ("PFE"). She argues the trial court departed from the essential requirements of the law because the evidence does not establish the mother's mental health was in controversy. We disagree and deny the petition.

         Florida Rule of Juvenile Procedure 8.250(b) provides:

At any time after the filing of a shelter, dependency, or termination of parental rights petition, or after an adjudication of dependency or a finding of dependency when adjudication is withheld, when the mental or physical condition . . . of a parent, . . .who has custody or is requesting custody of a child is in controversy, any party may request the court to order the person to submit to a physical or mental examination or a substance abuse evaluation or assessment by a qualified professional. The order may be made only on good cause shown and after notice to the person to be examined and to all parties and shall specify the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of the examination and the person or persons by whom it is to be made. The person whose examination is sought may, after receiving notice of the request for an examination, request a hearing seeking to quash the request. The court may, on its own motion, order a parent, legal custodian, or other person who has custody or is requesting custody to undergo such evaluation, treatment, or counseling activities as authorized by law.

         The rule implements section 39.407(15), Florida Statutes (2018), which authorizes a mental examination upon a showing of good cause when the parent's mental condition is in controversy.

         After hearing testimony and reviewing the record, the circuit court found the mother's mental condition was in controversy. It based its conclusion in part on the 2016 dependency adjudication order. That order reflected the mother had been referred to services to help her resolve "some issues regarding depression," and the mother had asked the Department to take custody of her children "because she could not provide for them physically or mentally."

         The circuit court also relied on evidence which showed that two years later, after the mother was reunited with her children, she lost her housing and advised she could not keep her children together with her in shelter due to one child's behavioral problems. This resulted in the children being returned and placed in foster care.

         The circuit court noted the mother had enrolled the children in school and located a therapist without assistance, but found that when overwhelmed, she returned the children to licensed care. The court reasoned that:

Without a parental fitness evaluation, any new case plan would have essentially the same tasks as the first reunification case plan. The [m]other completed those tasks, but they were not enough. It would be highly detrimental to the children for the [m]other to engage in ...

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