IN RE L.B.

No. D071809.

In re L.B., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. SAN DIEGO COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. T.B. et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District, Division One.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Grace Clark , under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant T.B.

Patti L. Dikes , under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant J.B.

Thomas E. Montgomery , County Counsel, John E. Philips , Chief Deputy County Counsel and Patrice Plattner-Grainger , County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS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 This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

McCONNELL, P. J.

T.B. (Mother) and J.B. (Father) appeal from the juvenile court's jurisdictional and dispositional order declaring their daughter, L.B., a dependent, and placing her in Father's care. The court's order arose from allegations Mother had thoughts of killing herself and L.B. and had submerged L.B. under water for three to five seconds. Mother and Father contend substantial evidence does not support the juvenile court's jurisdictional finding under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1).1 We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Mother and Father are active duty military. They were stationed in Japan when Mother became pregnant with L.B. At that time, Mother returned to the United States while Father remained in Japan. L.B. was born in June 2016.

After L.B.'s birth, Mother experienced numerous stressors, including marital problems, learning how to drive, living by herself, and parenting on her own. Mother moved in with a pastor and his wife in San Diego for support. Mother felt emotional and sad and was having trouble sleeping. She was taking medication to help her sleep.

Mother had refused mental health services numerous times. She was aware she had a mental health issue that was impacting her ability to function and care for L.B. However, she was not actively participating in services that had been offered to her. Mother had sought counseling, but did not like the person who interviewed her because the person was judgmental. According to Mother, the counselors and social workers she had seen rubbed her the wrong way.

In September 2016, Mother saw Dr. Michael Toohey at a behavioral health program. Dr. Toohey's notes indicate Mother stated to him she was frustrated L.B. would not stop crying and Mother thought it would be easier if L.B. was not alive. However, Mother stated she would never act on the thought.

In November 2016, Mother saw Dr. Timothy B. Marcoux. She reported she felt depressed and had three to four spontaneous crying spells every day where she broke down and felt overwhelmed. She also stated she had an episode in June 2016 when she felt overwhelmed after an argument with Father. At the time, she was bathing L.B. and had a "mental lapse for a few seconds" until she realized L.B. was submerged under water. Mother immediately pulled L.B. out of the water. As a result of the incident, Mother felt worthless and like a terrible mother who deserved to die.

Dr. Marcoux diagnosed Mother with "Postpartum Depression [rule out] Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood [rule out] Borderline personality traits." He prescribed Mother a daily antidepressant.

The next day, Mother went to a medical clinic for evaluation because she experienced somnolence and nausea. Mother had taken a dose of her antidepressant around 1:30 a.m., slept for three hours, and then took a second dose before she left for work in the morning. She was confused by an instruction to wait until the following morning to take a second dose.

During her medical evaluation, Mother stated to Dr. Russell Hays she had told a Navy Fleet and Family Services counselor the day before she held her baby under water for five seconds at some point and the baby cries all the time. The counselor had reported the incident to child protective services. The referral to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (Agency) alleged Mother disclosed she held L.B. under water for three to four seconds and had thoughts of wanting to kill herself by driving off of the Coronado bridge. Thus, when Mother was leaving the medical clinic, she was approached by an Agency social worker. Mother refused to talk to the social worker and collapsed on the floor.

Dr. Hays met with Mother after she collapsed and informed the social worker Mother needed to stay overnight. Dr. Hays described Mother as inconsolable and irrational. He also stated Mother demonstrated histrionic behaviors and major depression. Dr. Hays ordered Mother to be transferred to Balboa Hospital. Dr. Hays was worried about Mother and L.B. and was concerned about what would happen if L.B. did not stop crying. Dr. Hays did not think it was safe for L.B. to be returned to Mother.

The child protective services worker spoke with Mother's supervisor. The supervisor reported Mother had previously told him she had thought about killing herself and L.B. On one occasion, Mother told her supervisor if she killed herself while a male friend was at her house, the friend could take care of L.B. Mother also told her supervisor she had held L.B. under water for three to four seconds while she closed her eyes in an attempt to drown L.B. Mother's supervisor asked if it was an accident, and Mother responded, "no." Mother informed her supervisor if she killed herself and L.B., Mother would go to hell and L.B. would go to heaven. Mother had also told her supervisor she had held scissors to herself with thoughts of committing suicide and she hears voices telling her to kill herself. Mother's supervisor was very worried about her.

When Mother was taken to Balboa Hospital, the Agency removed L.B. from Mother's care and placed L.B. with licensed foster parents. Shortly thereafter, Mother called the social worker stating the doctor had cleared Mother as safe and Mother wanted to pick up L.B. The social worker agreed the Agency would follow up with the hospital. The next day, Mother and Father agreed to place L.B. out of the home in the care of L.B.'s daycare provider, Pearl McAllister. McAllister and the pastor's wife with whom Mother was residing agreed to supervise visits between Mother and L.B.

Father arrived home from Japan a few days after L.B. was placed with McAllister. Father told the social worker he did not think the allegations concerning Mother were true. He knew Mother was overwhelmed, but Mother had stated she was "ok." Father hoped when he returned to Japan later that month, L.B. would be returned to Mother's care.

Mother also spoke with the social worker and denied the allegations about holding L.B. under water. Mother explained she had closed her eyes to take a breath while she was bathing L.B. and when she opened her eyes, L.B. had slipped from an infant bathtub into the water. Mother picked L.B. up from the water and thought she was not a good mother for allowing that to happen. Mother stated she would never harm L.B. and has not had thoughts about harming herself.

The Agency filed a petition under section 300, subdivision (b) on behalf of L.B., who was just under six months old at the time. The petition alleged Mother had a mental illness, made statements of suicidal ideation, and had thoughts of taking L.B.'s life. The petition further alleged Mother was incapable of providing regular care for L.B. and had submerged L.B. under water for a few moments in June 2016. The petition also alleged Father failed to protect L.B. because he did not think Mother had a mental illness and wanted L.B. returned to Mother's care before he left for Japan.

At the detention hearing, the juvenile court found the Agency had made a prima facie showing L.B. was a person described by section 300, subdivision (b)(1). The court detained L.B. out of the home in the care of McAllister. The court granted Mother and Father liberal supervised visitation.

Mother continued to contend the incident that occurred in June 2016 when she was bathing L.B. was an accident. Mother stated while she was bathing L.B. Mother closed her eyes and L.B. slipped into the water. Mother told the social worker she closed her eyes and took a deep breath because that behavior was a coping skill for her when she was upset. Mother denied ever being diagnosed with a mental illness, including postpartum depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Mother told the social worker Father thought everything was fine.

Father denied being aware Mother had any mental health issues. He did not believe Mother was a danger to herself or L.B. According to Father, Mother was under a lot of stress and just needed fresh air.

The pastor's wife from whom Mother was renting a room also indicated Mother was under significant stress. However, the pastor's wife did not believe L.B. was in any danger. The pastor's wife stated she was available to supervise Mother's contact with L.B.

After considering the evidence presented at the contested jurisdiction and disposition hearings, the court amended the petition to reflect Mother's specific mental health diagnoses and struck allegations concerning Father. The court found the amended petition true by a preponderance of evidence. The court declared L.B. a dependent, removed physical custody from Mother, and placed L.B. with Father on the condition Mother had no unsupervised contact with L.B.

DISCUSSION

I.

Standard of Review

A parent may seek review of both the jurisdictional and dispositional findings on an appeal from the disposition order. (Cynthia D. v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 242, 249.) When the sufficiency of the evidence to support a finding or order is challenged on appeal, the reviewing court must determine if there is any substantial evidence, that is, evidence which is reasonable, credible, and of solid value to support the conclusion of the trier of fact. (In re Jason L. (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d 1206, 1214.) In making this determination, all conflicts are to be resolved in favor of the prevailing party and issues of fact and credibility are questions for the trier of fact. (In re Steve W. (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 10, 16.)

"However, substantial evidence is not synonymous with any evidence. [Citations.] A decision supported by a mere scintilla of evidence need not be affirmed on appeal. [Citation.] Furthermore, `[w]hile substantial evidence may consist of inferences, such inferences must be "a product of logic and reason" and "must rest on the evidence" [citation]; inferences that are the result of mere speculation or conjecture cannot support a finding [citations].' [Citation.] `The ultimate test is whether it is reasonable for a trier of fact to make the ruling in question in light of the whole record.'" (In re Savannah M. (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 1387, 1393-1394, italics omitted.)

II.

Substantial Evidence Supported the Court's Jurisdictional Finding

Mother and Father argue there was insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's finding L.B. had suffered or was at substantial risk of suffering serious physical harm. Specifically, Mother and Father contend harm to a child cannot be presumed from a parent's mental illness and dependency jurisdiction cannot be based on a single episode of endangering conduct. We reject these arguments.

Under section 300, subdivision (b)(1), the court may intervene when a minor has suffered, or is at substantial risk of suffering, serious physical harm or illness due to the parent's failure to supervise or protect the minor or due to the parent's inability to provide regular care for the child as a result of the parent's mental illness, developmental disability, or substance abuse. The Legislature's intent in enacting section 300 was to protect children who are currently being abused or neglected, "and to ensure the safety, protection, and physical and emotional well-being of children who are at risk of that harm." (§ 300.2.) "`The court need not wait until a child is seriously abused or injured to assume jurisdiction and take steps necessary to protect the child.'" (In re T.V. (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 126, 133.) In this regard, the court may consider past events when determining whether a child presently needs the juvenile court's protection. (In re Petra B. (1989) 216 Cal.App.3d 1163, 1169.)

Here, substantial evidence, including the incident when Mother had submerged L.B. under water, Mother's statements about harming herself and L.B., Mother's mental illness, and Mother's history of not working well with mental health providers, supported the juvenile court's finding L.B. was at substantial risk of suffering serious harm if she remained in Mother's care. While harm to a child cannot be presumed from the mere fact of a parent's mental illness (In re David D. (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 941, 953; In re Khalid H. (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 733, 736-737), here the evidence showed specifically how Mother's mental illness placed L.B. at risk of harm. Mother made several statements about killing herself and L.B. She stated life would be easier if L.B. was not alive, talked about driving off of the Coronado bridge, and explained that if she killed herself and L.B., Mother would go to hell and L.B. would go to heaven. Significantly, Mother had reported to multiple people she had submerged L.B. under water for several seconds. Mother told her supervisor the incident was not an accident. Rather, the incident occurred when she had a fight with Father and felt overwhelmed. Mother also reported she had experienced significant stressors, had been overwhelmed since L.B.'s birth, and L.B. cried all the time. Dr. Hays worried about what would happen if L.B. did not stop crying and cautioned it was not safe to return L.B. to Mother's care.

Although the record included evidence of only one episode where Mother held L.B. under water, the juvenile court need not wait until a minor is seriously injured to assume jurisdiction and take the steps necessary to protect the minor. (In re T.V., supra, 217 Cal.App.4th at p. 133.) This is especially true here because even after the June 2016 incident, Mother continued to report she felt overwhelmed since L.B.'s birth and L.B. cried all the time. Mother also continued to make statements about killing herself and L.B. Despite Mother's awareness she had a mental health issue impacting her ability to function and care for L.B., Mother had not been consistent with her mental health treatment. Mother sought counseling, but did not engage in treatment because the counselors and social workers rubbed her the wrong way. As of December 2016, Mother denied having a mental illness despite her postpartum depression diagnosis.

Mother's reliance on In re James R. (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 129 (James R.) and In re Matthew S. (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 1311 (Matthew S.) do not assist her. The circumstances of the mentally ill parent in each of these cases are not similar to her circumstances. In James R., the Agency filed petitions on behalf of three minor children after their mother, who had a history of suicide attempts, was hospitalized resulting from her consumption of a few beers and eight ibuprofen. (James R., at pp. 131-132.) The mother had explained she had mistakenly taken too many ibuprofen pills and was not trying to kill herself. (Ibid.) This court found there was insufficient evidence to sustain dependency jurisdiction under section 300 where the mentally ill parent did not have any history of abusing or neglecting her children, who were healthy, well cared for and never unsupervised. (James R., at p. 137.) There was no evidence of a specified, defined risk of harm to the children resulting from the parent's mental illness or alcohol use. (Ibid.)

In Matthew S., the court found a mother's severe mental illness did not present a substantial risk of physical harm to her teenage children. (In re Matthew S., supra, 41 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1316-1319.) The mother in that case had delusions, including about her 13-year-old son's physical health. (Id. at pp. 1314.) As a result of her delusions, the mother had her son examined by a doctor. (Ibid.) The mother recognized she was mentally ill and needed psychiatric help. (Ibid.) She had participated in extensive therapy in the past and took medication when she needed it. (Id. at pp. 1316-1317.) The Court of Appeal determined there was insufficient evidence to sustain a jurisdictional finding under section 300, subdivision (b) because "[a]side from going to the urologist to make sure her son was not harmed after she had a delusion, she is an excellent mother." (Id. at p. 1319.)

In contrast to the parents in James R. and Matthew S., Mother's mental illness presented a risk of physical harm to L.B. Mother repeatedly expressed wanting to kill herself and L.B. She heard voices telling her to kill herself, stated she wanted to drive off of the Coronado bridge, and had held scissors to herself with thoughts of suicide. Moreover, Mother had held L.B. under water for several seconds and had thoughts of drowning her. Mother expressed if she killed L.B., L.B. would go to heaven. These circumstances are distinguishable from James R. and Matthew S. Mother's mental illness, thoughts of harming herself and L.B., act of holding L.B. under water, and failure to participate in extensive mental health treatment created a substantial risk of harm to L.B., an infant who is vulnerable and could not protect herself.

Based on the foregoing, we conclude the juvenile court's jurisdictional finding is supported by substantial evidence.

DISPOSITION

The juvenile court's order is affirmed.

NARES, J. and O'ROURKE, J., concurs.

FootNotes


1. All further statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.

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