Published: Reversing, vacating and Remanding
Mom appealed from FC's order removing Children from her custody based on a finding of neglect, contending that the Rules of Civil Procedure applied to proceedings prior to the adjudication in dependency hearings and that FC committed error by denying Mom discovery of relevant information and documents prior to the adjudication hearing.
Based upon information from 5 year-old Child and photographs of Child's injuries, and after Mom refused to cooperate in Social Worker's investigation of abuse complaint, Social Worker filed juvenile petitions in FC alleging that Child and her younger sibling were abused and requested and received Emergency Custody Orders removing Children from Mom's custody. When Social Worker and State Trooper arrived at Mom's home to remove Children, Mom came storming out of the home, screaming that Child was a "liar" and a "thief" and that she would "holler rape" if the trooper touched her. Trooper then arrested Mom on an unrelated outstanding warrant and Social Worker took Children into her custody. At Temporary Removal hearing, Mom admitted calling Child "liar" and "thief" but informed FC that she had ADHD and manic-depressive disorder and had not been taking her medication; Boyfriend admitted spanking Child. Social Worker also testified about her investigation, but because she did not bring photos of Child's injuries with her, they were not introduced into evidence. FC entered temporary order removing Children from Mom's custody and scheduled adjudication hearing. The following day, Mom's counsel served the County Attorney with interrogatories and requests for production of documents regarding the witnesses and exhibits that would be used by the County Attorney at the adjudication hearing; the request cited KRS 620.100 as making the Civil Rules applicable to the action. The County Attorney responded that KRS 620.100 applied only to the adjudication hearing itself, not pre-hearing matters, but that the Commonwealth would agree for FC to enter an Order permitting Mom's counsel to inspect all of Cabinet's relevant records.
FC did not hear the discovery issue until the day of the scheduled adjudication hearing. Because of FC's concern that Mom would have access to confidential documents, FC ordered the parties to submit briefs on the issue within ten days and rescheduled the adjudication hearing.
After submission of briefs, FC eventually denied the discovery request, holding "that KRS 620.100(3) applies to the adjudication hearing and not to pre-adjudicative matters." FC subsequently held adjudication and disposition hearings, found Children to be neglected, and ordered that Children remain out of Mom's custody.
CA affirmed, holding that nothing in the Uniform Juvenile Code requires application of the Civil Rules prior to the adjudication hearing, and noting that pre-hearing applicability of the rules would be impractical or impossible, given the short time frames for resolution of these cases. CA also held that Mom's rights were otherwise adequately protected. Lastly, CA found that Mom could have examined the photographs and other documentary evidence had she chosen to do so even without the statutory right to such examination, given Commonwealth's agreement to her access to the Cabinet's records. However, SC noted that this contention was incorrect because although Commonwealth agreed to entry of an Order, no Order was ever entered.
SC granted discretionary review to determine whether Civil Rule discovery prior to the adjudication hearing is allowed in a dependency, neglect, or abuse action.
Civil Rules provide that they are applicable to all civil actions, which includes DNA actions, unless those rules conflict with rules provided under "special
statutory proceedings." DNA statutes meet the definition of special statutory proceedings because they provide a complete procedural framework within the statutes.
Although discovery under the Civil Rules can take much longer than the DNA time frames, this does not present a conflict between the statutory requirements of DNA actions and the Civil Rules, as both allow for flexibility as to time frames. FC has the power to control the timing and sequence of discovery both with regard to the civil rules and per DNA statute. Thus, there is no direct conflict between the statutes and rules. Moreover, by statute, the Civil Rules apply to DNA actions. KRS 610.080(2) states that the Civil Rules apply to the "action." This encompasses not just the adjudication portion of the action, but the entire action, which also includes the temporary removal hearing and the disposition hearing, with no exceptions.
SC noted that there may be a conflict between the Civil Rules and the DNA statutes under other circumstances. In those instances, because DNA actions are "special statutory proceedings," their time limits will trump those in the Civil Rules where a conflict arises. Nevertheless, a participant in a DNA action is entitled to the benefit of the Civil Rules, including the discovery provisions, so long as there is no conflict with the Juvenile Code. Though this may not mean access to the full range of discovery tools, since a judge may or may not be convinced that a time frame needs to be changed, it means at least reasonable access to the discovery procedures. Thus, Mom was improperly denied access to the discovery provisions of the Civil Rules and therefore was deprived of due process.