52 Cal. 4th 231, 255 P.3d 953, 128 Cal. Rptr. 3d 276

Filed 7/21/11

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

In re K. C., a Person Coming
Under the Juvenile Court Law.
___________________________________ )

KINGS COUNTY HUMAN SERVICES
S183320
AGENCY,
Ct.App. 5 F058395
Plaintiff and Respondent,
Kings County
v.
Super. Ct. No. 08JD0075
J.C.,
Defendant and Appellant.
____________________________________)

The question before us in this dependency case is whether a father whose
parental rights have been terminated (Welf. & Inst. Code, ? 366.26, subd. (c)),1
and who does not challenge that decision, has standing to appeal an order entered
at the same hearing denying a petition by the dependent child?s grandparents to
have the child placed with them (?? 361.3, 366.26, subd. (k), 388). We hold the
father does not have standing to appeal the order concerning placement.

1
All further statutory citations are to the Welfare and Institutions Code,
except as noted.


I. BACKGROUND
Only the question of standing is before us. We have no occasion to review
the merits of the superior court?s order denying the petition concerning placement
(? 388) or the judgment terminating parental rights (? 366.26, subd. (c)).
Accordingly, the facts underlying those rulings do not affect our decision, and we
offer only the briefest summary of them.
K.C., the subject of this proceeding, is the youngest of eight children born to
father, the appellant in this case, and to mother, who has not appealed. K.C. was
born in September 2008. Five of his siblings survive. Another sibling died at
birth, and the eldest, J.C., died in October 2008 at the age of 15 after jumping from
a moving car driven by mother. In separate proceedings, the juvenile court in
Tulare County has declared K.C.?s siblings to be dependents, terminated mother?s
and father?s parental rights as to them, and placed the siblings with their paternal
grandparents (grandparents).
Six weeks after J.C. died, K.C. was removed from mother?s custody in Kings
County, declared to be a dependent child (? 300), and placed with a foster parent
who wishes to adopt him. Grandparents asked respondent Kings County Human
Services Agency (agency) to place K.C. in their home with his siblings. Although
grandparents? home met the applicable licensing requirements, the agency denied
the request based on a variety of concerns, including, among others, mother?s and
father?s continuing access to grandparents? home, questions about grandparents?
ability to care for a sixth child, and a suicide attempt in grandparents? home by
J.C. in 2007. The Kings County Juvenile Court bypassed reunification services
for both parents because of their failure to reunify with K.C.?s siblings (? 361.5,
subd. (b)(10)), as well as their history of drug and alcohol abuse (id., subd.
(b)(13)), and scheduled a hearing to select and implement a permanent plan for
K.C. (? 366.26).
2


Grandparents filed a petition to modify K.C.?s existing placement (? 388) by
placing him in their home. The juvenile court heard the matter at a contested
hearing immediately preceding the selection and implementation hearing. At the
hearing, the agency reiterated its previously expressed concerns about placing
K.C. with grandparents and called witnesses to support its position. In opposition,
grandparents called child welfare officials from Tulare County, who testified that
K.C.?s siblings were doing well in grandparents? care, and the principal of the
siblings? school, who expressed satisfaction with their academic progress. Father,
who was transported from prison in custody to appear at the hearing, stated he
believed K.C. should be placed with grandparents. Neither father nor his counsel,
however, offered any argument against terminating father?s parental rights.
Mother, who was incarcerated and awaiting deportation, did not appear.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the juvenile court denied grandparents?
petition to modify K.C.?s placement, selected adoption as the permanent plan, and
terminated mother?s and father?s parental rights. Father filed a notice of appeal
from both the order denying grandparents? petition and the judgment terminating
his rights. In the ensuing appeal, however, father did not argue the court erred or
abused its discretion in terminating his rights. Instead, father limited his argument
to the question of K.C.?s placement and contended that, should the Court of
Appeal reverse the placement order, the court should also reverse the judgment
terminating parental rights to restore the parties to their prior positions. (Cf. In re
Esperanza C. (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1042, 1061-1062; In re H.G. (2006) 146
Cal.App.4th 1, 18.) The Court of Appeal, reasoning that father was not aggrieved
by the placement decision because it could not be shown to affect his parental
rights, dismissed father?s appeal. The court also dismissed grandparents? appeal
as untimely. We granted father?s petition for review.
3


II. DISCUSSION
The issue before us is one of standing, not appealability. Orders denying
petitions under section 388 to modify prior orders of the juvenile court, such as the
grandparents? petition in this case to modify the dependent child?s placement, are
appealable under section 395. Section 395 expressly provides that any order
subsequent to the judgment under section 300 declaring a child to be a dependent
?may be appealed as an order after judgment.? (? 395, subd. (a)(1); see In re
Aaron R. (2005) 130 Cal.App.4th 697, 702-703.)
Not every party has standing to appeal every appealable order. Although
standing to appeal is construed liberally, and doubts are resolved in its favor, only
a person aggrieved by a decision may appeal. (E.g., In re L.Y.L. (2002) 101
Cal.App.4th 942, 948; cf. Code Civ. Proc., ? 902 [?Any party aggrieved may
appeal . . . .?].) An aggrieved person, for this purpose, is one whose rights or
interests are injuriously affected by the decision in an immediate and substantial
way, and not as a nominal or remote consequence of the decision. (In re L.Y.L.,
supra, at p. 948; see County of Alameda v. Carleson (1971) 5 Cal.3d 730, 737; In
re Estate of Colton (1912) 164 Cal. 1, 5.) These rules apply with full force to
appeals from dependency proceedings. (E.g., In re L.Y.L., supra, at p. 948.)
To determine whether father is aggrieved by the juvenile court?s order
declining to place K.C. with grandparents, we must therefore precisely identify
father?s interest in the matter. All parents, unless and until their parental rights are
terminated, have an interest in their children?s ?companionship, care, custody and
management . . . .? (In re Marilyn H. (1993) 5 Cal.4th 295, 306.) This interest is
a ?compelling one, ranked among the most basic of civil rights.? (Ibid.) While
the overarching goal of the dependency law is to safeguard the welfare of
dependent children and to promote their best interests (e.g., In re Nolan W. (2009)
45 Cal.4th 1217, 1228; In re A.M. (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 914, 925), the law?s
4


first priority when dependency proceedings are commenced is to preserve family
relationships, if possible. (In re Nolan W., supra, at p. 1228.) To this end, the law
requires the juvenile court to provide reunification services unless a statutory
exception applies. (See ibid.; ? 361.5.) In contrast, after reunification services are
terminated or bypassed (as in this case), ?the parents? interest in the care, custody
and companionship of the child [is] no longer paramount. Rather, at this point ?the
focus shifts to the needs of the child for permanency and stability . . . .? ? (In re
Stephanie M. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 295, 317, quoting In re Marilyn H., supra, at
p. 309.) For this reason, the decision to terminate or bypass reunification services
ordinarily constitutes a sufficient basis for terminating parental rights. (? 366.26,
subd. (c)(1).) A few statutory exceptions to this rule permit the juvenile court not
to terminate parental rights when compelling reasons show termination would be
detrimental to the child. (Id., subd. (c)(1) (B)(i)-(vi).) But father did not argue
below, and does not argue now, that any such exception applies. Indeed, as noted,
father does not contend the order terminating his parental rights was improper in
any respect. That he has no remaining, legally cognizable interest in K.C.?s
affairs, including his placement, logically follows.
For this reason, the present case is distinguishable from the cases on which
father primarily relies, In re H.G., supra, 146 Cal.App.4th 1, and In re Esperanza
C., supra, 165 Cal.App.4th 1042. In both cases, the Court of Appeal concluded
that parents whose rights had been terminated were aggrieved by, and thus did
have standing to appeal, pretermination orders concerning their children?s
placement, because the possibility existed that reversing those orders might lead
the juvenile court not to terminate parental rights. These cases do not assist father
because he makes no such argument.
5


In re H.G., supra, 146 Cal.App.4th 1, was an appeal by parents of an order
removing their daughter from her grandparents? custody (see ? 387)2 and a
judgment terminating parental rights. The Court of Appeal reversed the order
taking the child from her grandparents because the juvenile court had failed to
comply with section 361.3, which mandates preferential consideration of a request
for placement with relatives of the dependent child. (In re H.G., supra, at pp. 10-
11; see ? 361.3, subd. (a).) Because the court failed properly to consider the
request for placement with relatives, the order terminating parental rights was at
least premature and possibly erroneous: The placement of a dependent child with
relatives can, under certain circumstances, make the termination of parental rights
unnecessary. (? 366.26, subd. (c)(1)(A).)3 Because the propriety of terminating
parental rights depended partly on the placement decision, the order removing the
child from her grandparents? custody affected the mother?s interests sufficiently to
confer upon her standing to appeal that order as well. As the Court of Appeal
explained, ?a placement decision under section 387 has the potential to alter the
court?s determination of the child?s best interests and the appropriate permanency

2
Section 387 governs proposed orders that would have the effect of
imposing a more restrictive placement, i.e., by ?removing a child from the
physical custody of a parent, guardian, relative, or friend and directing placement
in a foster home, or commitment to a private or county institution . . . .? (Cf.
? 388 [concerning petitions to modify juvenile court orders generally].)
3
The court need not terminate parental rights when ?[t]he child is living with
a relative who is unable or unwilling to adopt the child because of circumstances
that do not include an unwillingness to accept legal or financial responsibility for
the child, but who is willing and capable of providing the child with a stable and
permanent environment through legal guardianship, and the removal of the child
from the custody of his or her relative would be detrimental to the emotional well-
being of the child. . . .? (? 366.26, subd. (c)(1)(A).)
6


plan for that child, and thus may affect a parent?s interest in his or her legal status
with respect to the child.? (In re H.G., supra, at p. 10.)
In re Esperanza C., supra, 165 Cal.App.4th 1042, extended the reasoning of
In H.G., supra, 146 Cal.App.4th 1, to the procedural mechanism employed in the
case before us, namely, a petition under section 388 to modify an existing order
concerning placement. A mother whose parental rights had been terminated
sought to appeal an order, entered immediately before termination, denying a
relative?s petition for placement under section 388. Adopting the reasoning of In
re H.G., the court concluded the mother did have standing because the resolution
of the placement issue had the potential to alter the decision to terminate parental
rights. (In re Esperanza C., supra, at p. 1054.) The court thus reversed both the
order concerning placement and the judgment terminating parental rights. (Id., at
p. 1062.)
From these decisions we derive the following rule: A parent?s appeal from a
judgment terminating parental rights confers standing to appeal an order
concerning the dependent child?s placement only if the placement order?s reversal
advances the parent?s argument against terminating parental rights. This rule does
not support father?s claim of standing to appeal because he did not contest the
termination of his parental rights in the juvenile court. By thus acquiescing in the
termination of his rights, he relinquished the only interest in K.C. that could render
him aggrieved by the juvenile court?s order declining to place the child with
grandparents.4

4
On appeal, father argued perfunctorily that, if the placement order were
reversed, the court should also reverse the order terminating parental rights under
the authority of In re H.G., supra, 146 Cal.App.4th 1 and In re Esperanza C.,
supra, 165 Cal.App.4th 1042. Nothing in those decisions suggests, however, that

(footnote continued on next page)
7


Arguing against this conclusion, father suggests the court?s placement order
touches upon interests other than his interest in avoiding the termination of his
parental rights. First, he argues he has standing to appeal simply because he is a
party of record and because standing to appeal is construed liberally and doubts
resolved in its favor. (E.g., In re L.Y.L., supra, 101 Cal.App.4th 942, 948.) These
very general principles, however, do not displace the fundamental rule that only a
person aggrieved by a decision may appeal. (See ibid.; see also County of
Alameda v. Carleson, supra, 5 Cal.3d 730, 737 [only person aggrieved by decision
may appeal]; In re Estate of Colton, supra, 164 Cal. 1, 5 [same]; Code Civ. Proc.,
? 902 [same].)
Next, father argues he has standing to appeal the order denying placement
with grandparents (i.e., his own parents) because, if the order were reversed and
the grandparents were eventually to adopt K.C., father would in some sense
become K.C.?s legal sibling and thus acquire a new set of rights connecting him
with K.C. We find no merit in the argument, because the rights father posits are
potentially inconsistent with the judgment terminating his parental rights. For
example, while the dependency law does permit postadoption contact between
siblings (? 366.29), we doubt the Legislature intended the term ?sibling? to
include a parent whose rights as to a child have been terminated and who may
appropriately be ordered not to have any contact with the child. Similar objections
apply to father?s additional arguments that his status as a ?relative? would entitle
him to preference as a foster parent if K.C. once again entered the foster care

(footnote continued from previous page)

a reviewing court must reverse an order terminating the rights of a parent who did
not oppose that order when it was entered.
8


system (see Fam. Code, ? 7950, subd. (a)(1)), and to enjoy certain rights as a
?relative? in the event a guardianship were ever proposed for K.C. (see Prob.
Code, ? 1510).
Finally, father contends he has standing to appeal because he joined in
grandparents? motion for placement and took an active part in litigating the motion
in the juvenile court. However, ?the mere fact that a parent takes a position on a
matter at issue in a juvenile dependency case that affects his or her child does not
constitute a sufficient reason to establish standing to challenge an adverse ruling
on it.? (In re Carissa G. (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 731, 736 [mother lacked standing
to appeal dependency petition].) The decision in Cesar V. v. Superior Court
(2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1023, on which father relies, is not to the contrary.
Although the father in that case was held to lack standing to appeal, the court
nevertheless permitted him to offer argument in support of an appellant who did
have standing because the father had ?extensively litigated the issue below . . . .?
(Id., at p. 1035.) What the father in Cesar V. appears to have won was not
standing to appeal, but a status loosely akin to that of amicus curiae. Here, in
contrast, there is no appeal on the merits in which father might participate in a
similar capacity. The only parties with standing to appeal ? grandparents ?did
not file a timely notice of appeal.
In conclusion, father has not shown that he is aggrieved by the juvenile
court?s order denying grandparents? motion concerning placement. That the Court
of Appeal properly dismissed his appeal for want of standing necessarily follows.
9



III. DISPOSITION
The judgment of the Court of Appeal is affirmed.
WERDEGAR, J.
WE CONCUR:
CANTIL-SAKAUYE, C. J.
KENNARD, J.
BAXTER, J.
CHIN, J.
CORRIGAN, J.
GILBERT, J.*

*
Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District,
Division Six, assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the
California Constitution.
10



See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion In re K.C.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion


Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
XXX 184 Cal.App.4th 120
Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.

S183320
Date Filed: July 21, 2011
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:

Superior
County: Kings
Judge: George Orndoff

__________________________________________________________________________________

Counsel:

Monica Vogelmann, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Peter D. Moock and Colleen Carlson, County Counsel, and Johannah Hartley, Deputy County Counsel, for
Plaintiff and Respondent.

Jennifer B. Henning for California State Association of Counties as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff
and Respondent.



Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

Monica Vogelmann
P.O. Box 1034
Cooperstown, NY 13326
(607) 547-7058

Johannah Hartley
Deputy County Counsel
County Government Center
1400 West Lacey Blvd., Law Bldg. No. 4
Hanford, CA 93230
(559) 582-3211, ext. 2445