COUNTY OF KERN DEPT. OF CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES v. BEAVERS

No. F073198.

COUNTY OF KERN DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. JUSTIN BEAVERS, Defendant and Appellant.

Court of Appeals of California, Fifth District.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Justin Beavers, in pro. per., for Defendant and Appellant.

Shanteria M. Lee, in pro. per., for Plaintiff and Respondent.

No appearance for Plaintiff and Respondent County of Kern Department of Child Support Services.


NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

OPINION

THE COURT*

Justin Beavers (father) and Shanteria M. Lee (mother) have one child together, a daughter (daughter), who was approximately five years old at the time father filed a motion seeking sole legal and physical custody of her.1 The trial court denied the motion, instead awarding mother sole legal and physical custody of daughter and granting father supervised visitation. Apparently, the juvenile court also denied father's motion for reconsideration.

Father asserts the juvenile court erred, although the precise grounds of asserted error are unclear. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

Father and mother both represent themselves in this appeal. As a result, numerous relevant documents filed in the juvenile court were not included in the record on appeal. From the information contained in the record, it appears to us the following is a fairly accurate factual summary leading to father's motion.

Sometime after daughter was born, but when she was still very young, mother and father separated. It appears mother and daughter lived at all times in Kern County. Father was homeless in the Los Angeles area for a while, had an apartment in Kern County at times, and moved out of state for a period of time. It appears father was not involved in daughter's upbringing up to the time he filed his motion. Mother had acted as a single parent and had allowed father's mother (grandmother) frequent visitation with the daughter, including overnight visits.2 Father visited with the daughter on occasions, although it is unclear how often those visits occurred, or the duration of those visits.

Mother has a sister, Asiah Hines. In 2013, an infant died while in Hines's custody and control. The cause of death was multiple blunt force trauma. Hines pled no contest to a second degree murder charge and was sentenced to a term of 15 years to life.3 There is no indication in the record that mother had any involvement in the death of the child. We present these facts only because father cites these circumstances to support one of his arguments.

When father filed his motion, it appears he had returned to live in Kern County and found stable employment. Although father's moving papers are not included in the record, father's reasoning can be gleaned from the comments he made at the hearing on the motion.

It appears father's primary contention is that the child was not safe in mother's custody. Father reasoned the mother of the child murdered by Hines would seek revenge by killing daughter. As evidence to support his argument, father pointed out that at one point there was a kitchen fire in the apartment in which mother and daughter were living. Father argued this was evidence someone was trying to kill daughter, and the perpetrator must be the mother of Hines's victim. There is no competent evidence that the kitchen fire was intentionally set, or that the mother of Hines's victim either started the fire or was seeking revenge for the death of her child.

It also appears mother allowed father to visit with daughter, but not as frequently as father wished. Father claimed mother made it very difficult for him to visit daughter, and at times refused to permit him to visit daughter. Mother also allegedly made it difficult for father to speak with daughter on the phone when he was out of state.

Father also asserted mother had, in essence, admitted that each of his arguments were true in the response she filed with the juvenile court. He also asserted she made numerous false statements in her response. He accused mother of emotionally abusing the daughter and attempting to brainwash the daughter, apparently to reject father.

The juvenile court was not persuaded by father's arguments, finding some of the arguments to be scattered and unfocused. The juvenile court concluded mother did not admit any of father's allegations were true, and it rejected any assertion daughter was placed in danger because of the sibling relationship between mother and Hines. The juvenile court concluded it had serious concerns about father's ability to care for daughter based on father's behavior and reasoning as demonstrated in the papers filed with the court. It therefore ordered sole legal and physical custody to mother with supervised visits for father.

Father filed a motion for reconsideration essentially asserting the same arguments made at the hearing, but also asserting the juvenile court had granted custody to mother because it felt father was "crazy." Father denied he had any mental health issues and denied he was under treatment for any such issues. The juvenile court's order regarding this motion is not contained in the record, but it seems probable the motion was denied.

DISCUSSION

After reviewing father's brief, it appears to us he identifies 18 "issues" which, in his opinion, require reversal of the order. He then cites "facts" that he insists support his conclusion that reversal of the order is required. Father also asks us to apply a de novo standard of review to each of these issues.

There are two aspects to the standard of review we must apply in this case. An award of custody is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court, and we review the exercise of that discretion for an abuse of discretion. (In re Marriage of Russo (1971) 21 Cal.App.3d 72, 86.) A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, capricious, or patently absurd manner. (People v. Peoples (2016) 62 Cal.4th 718, 745.)

To the extent father's arguments can be construed as challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's order, our review of such claims is deferential. We review the whole record in a light most favorable to the order to determine whether it contains substantial evidence—that is evidence that is reasonable, credible, and of solid value—to determine if the evidence supports the trial court's conclusions. (People v. Hillhouse (2002) 27 Cal.4th 469, 496; People v. Superior Court (Jones) (1998) 18 Cal.4th 667, 681.) We focus on the whole record, not isolated bits of evidence. (People v. Slaughter (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1187, 1203, disapproved on other grounds in People v. Diaz (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1176, 1189-1190.) We presume the existence of every fact the trier of fact reasonably could deduce from the evidence supporting the order. (People v. Kraft (2000) 23 Cal.4th 978, 1053.) We will not substitute our evaluations of a witness's credibility for that of the trial court. (People v. Koontz (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1041, 1078.)

One other principle is relevant to our review of this matter. It is the appellant's obligation to provide this court with a record adequate to demonstrate error occurred in the trial court. (Estrada v. Ramirez (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 618, 620, fn. 1.) Failure to do so precludes review and results in affirmance of the trial court's order. (Ibid.) This principle is significant because the record in this case does not contain any of mother's pleadings and omits at least some of the trial court's rulings.

Bearing in mind these standards of review, and the paltry record in this case, we will attempt to address father's arguments. As we understand father's brief, he takes exception to various portions of the proceedings during the hearing on his motion. He cites to various portions of the argument, and in a separate section of his brief argues why he believes whatever occurred was erroneous.

I.

The first argument relates to questions asked of mother by the trial court. Mother testified that for approximately two months father resided with her and the child, but has not done so since. Mother also testified father had not visited with the child since leaving the household, but clarified that response later at the hearing.

In his argument related to this issue, father accuses mother of lying, although we cannot understand his logic. Mother admitted at the hearing that father visited with the daughter, as recently as a few weeks before the hearing, which father agreed was correct. He also asserts mother and child lived with him at times after the initial two months he spent with mother and daughter. This is a statement made by father at the hearing, but there is no other evidence to support the argument. Moreover, whether mother and daughter lived with father for a few months is not dispositive to the issue at the hearing.

II.

Mother testified that the last time father visited with daughter before the recent visit was possibly in December 2012. Mother stated she was unsure, but that date was her best approximation. Father doesn't dispute this statement, but instead asserts that if mother brought daughter to see grandmother, then mother must have been lying at the hearing. This assertion is not logical, and is rejected.

III.

Mother admitted talking to Hines on the phone while she was in prison, but denied any other contact with her. Father asserts mother is lying, but nothing in the record supports this assertion.

IV.

Mother testified that she had little contact with father in 2013, and she did not recall any visits between father and daughter. Father asserts mother is lying because he claimed daughter as a dependent on his tax return for the 2012 calendar year. Father appears to admit mother claimed daughter as a dependent on her 2013 tax return. We see no basis to disbelieve mother's testimony, and indeed do not see a conflict in the testimony on this issue.

V.

The department conducted an investigation in 2011. Mother explained the department was investigating the minor children of another mother, and removed all children from the home, including daughter. Mother retrieved daughter from the department within 24 hours. Father criticizes mother because she asserted she had some documents related to the incident, but he did not believe she had any. Whether father is correct or not, the fact remains that an incident the department investigated four years before the hearing in which mother was apparently without fault is irrelevant.

VI.

Mother testified that she did not oppose father visiting with the child, and she wanted daughter to know father. Father does not explain in his argument to what he objects in this testimony. Instead, he disparages mother for not giving him her address, accuses mother of preventing him from visiting daughter, and accuses mother of brainwashing daughter. There is no evidence to support any of these assertions.

VII.

Father testified mother brought daughter to grandmother and great-grandmother, and admitted he was able to visit with daughter at those times. He also apparently asserts he arranged with mother to have daughter brought to great-grandmother's house to allow him to visit with daughter. He complained, however, that mother would not give him her address so he could pick up daughter. In his argument, father asserts that because mother would not give him her address, then she was preventing him from visiting daughter. This argument is illogical. If mother brought daughter to visit with father, she did not prevent visitation.

VIII.

Father testified he attempted to contact daughter by phone while he lived out of state. Father asserted mother interfered with his attempts to speak with daughter by, apparently, manipulating the phone so daughter could not hear father. Whatever difficulty father had in speaking with daughter, his attempts to blame mother are unfounded. There is no evidence that mother acted inappropriately during those phone calls, other than father's speculation. Speculation is not evidence. (People v. Wright (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 537, 546.)

IX.

The trial court directed father to speak to the court, and not to mother. Father apparently asserts he wanted to ask mother questions to expose the truth about various issues (and mother's purported lies). The trial court acted well within its discretion in controlling the court proceedings in preventing father from directly questioning mother. (People ex rel. Reisig v. Acuna (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 1, 23-24 [trial court has inherent and statutory authority to control proceedings; review is for abuse of discretion].)

X.

Father then presents a confusing jumble of ideas that father contends establishes mother lied several times to the trial court. Father fails, however, to present any evidence to show the various statements attributed to mother were false. He merely repeatedly asserts mother lied at various times. For example, mother's comment to the court that father had periodic visits with daughter was labeled a lie, as was mother's asserted comment that father failed to provide any support for daughter. In addition, father argues that simply because mother failed to respond to every argument or claim made by father in his moving papers, she was admitting the truth of everything he said. Based on the briefs and record in this appeal, replying to everything asserted by father is impractical. Even more problematic, father failed to include in the record the documents from which he was purportedly reading. Without these documents, we cannot provide further analysis of father's argument.

XI.

Father attempts to refute mother's apparent assertion that daughter lived in a safe and stable environment. The failure to provide a complete record results in no evidence of this assertion other than in father's testimony. Father's attempt to show daughter did not live in a safe and stable environment is predicated on the claim that mother inflicted emotional abuse on daughter by attempting to isolate her from father or, in his words, alienating her from father. The basis of this argument, it appears to us, is father's assertion mother prevented him from visiting with daughter. There is no evidence anywhere in the record, other than father's repeated assertions, that mother ever attempted to isolate daughter from father. Mother and father both testified that father visited with daughter.

XII.

Father asserts daughter is not safe with mother because the mother of Hines's victim is seeking revenge. This repeated assertion, unsupported by any facts, is an example of the type of argument which caused the trial court to question father's state of mind. Needless to say, this argument does not have merit because father failed to present any facts to support his conjecture that the kitchen fire at mother's residence was allegedly started by the mother of Hines's victim in an attempt to harm daughter (and mother).

XIII.

Father identifies as error mother's testimony that because father was not living near daughter for much of her life, he missed a lot of her growing-up experience. Father asserts mother's response sought sympathy from the court and portrayed him in a negative light. Mother did nothing more than confirm with the trial court that father was not present for much of daughter's life, as father admitted when he testified he lived in Southern California for over a year and lived out of state for eight months. This court is not condemning father for being homeless for over a year, simply recognizing that while he was homeless in Southern California, his ability to participate in his daughter's life was hampered.

XIV.

The fourteenth issue presented by father relates to mother allowing grandmother to visit with daughter. Father presents no argument related to this issue, and we fail to see any significance to the fact admitted by both mother and father.

XV.

Father complains about a portion of the trial court's oral ruling at the hearing. The trial court commented that father's papers and arguments were not logical and evidenced unfocused thinking. Father argues that he does not understand the trial court's comment, and he presented truthful facts during the argument. We have reviewed the record and the briefs and found father's arguments often evidence a lack of common sense as well as a lack of logic.

XVI.

Father challenges the trial court's comments rejecting his reliance on the assertion daughter was in significant danger because the mother of Hines's victim was seeking revenge. We addressed this concern above. Once again, in the absence of any evidence the mother of Hines's victim was actually attempting to harm daughter, this line of argument is rejected as speculation.

XVII.

Father complains about the trial court's observation that father was out of the area and out of state for a period of time. This observation merely summarized father's testimony. Father asserts the amount of time he was out of the area was less than the trial court believed, and even while out of town, he visited with daughter when he could do so. Assuming father is correct, this fact is not significant in this appeal.

XVIII.

The final argument presented by father refers to the trial court's observation that based on the papers filed by father, and his testimony and behavior in court, the trial court had serious reservations about father's ability to care for a child. The trial court also observed father's assertion that mother was attempting to alienate him from his daughter was inconsistent with the fact mother permitted father to visit with daughter, as well as with grandmother and great-grandmother. Father argues these comments were not based on any evidence, yet there is testimony to support each of these assertions.

CONCLUSION

It appears father believes (1) mother is preventing him from visiting daughter as often as he would like, (2) her refusal to provide him with her current contact information suggests she is attempting to prevent future visits, and (3) daughter is in physical and emotional danger while in mother's custody. The trial court rejected each of these assertions. Each of these assertions is rejected because they are not supported by any evidence or are based on speculation. In any event, the trial court's ruling is supported by substantial evidence, and there is nothing in the record which could be construed as error by the trial court.

DISPOSITION

The order from which father appeals is affirmed. Mother is awarded her costs, if any, in this appeal.

FootNotes


* Before Detjen, Acting P.J., Peña, J. and Meehan, J.
1. Although the County of Kern Department of Child Support Services (the department) is the named defendant in this appeal, it did not participate in the proceedings underlying this appeal and declined to file a brief in this appeal. We assume the child custody action was filed in the same action filed by the department related to child support or some other issue related to the child.
2. It also appears father's grandmother (great-grandmother) also visited with daughter.
3. These facts are taken from our unpublished opinion in Hines's appeal from the judgment. (People v Hines (Sept. 13, 2016, F071476).)

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