Supreme Court of Kentucky reverses Kentucky Court of Appeals decisions and reinstates finding that mother emotionally injured and abused her child – Published Opinion from Kentucky Supreme Court

Commonwealth of Kentucky, Cabinet for Health and Family Services v. L.G.; H.M.; and J.M., Case No. 2021-SC-0530-DGE; and J.M. v. L.G.; G.M.; H.M.; Commonwealth of Kentucky, Cabinet for Health and Family Services; and Jefferson County Attorney

The underlying facts involve multiple Cabinet investigations and DVO/EPO allegations involving alleged sexual abuse by father, J.M., filed and reported by mother, L.G.  During investigation into a fourth Cabinet report made against J.M., the Cabinet initiated an investigation into mother, L.G., based on concerns that L.G. was manipulating the child to make false accusations regarding abuse to retaliate against J.M. following arguments between the two parents. 

Due to the timing of the accusations occurring close to disagreements among the parents, and lack of consistencies from the child about the alleged incidents during its investigation, the Cabinet did not substantiate the first three reports of sexual abuse by J.M.  At this time, however, of the fourth investigation into J.M., and the first into L.G., Jefferson Family Court ordered a psychological assessment of the child.  Following interviews of the child, and extensive review of his medical history, the licensed psychologist opined that L.G. emotionally abused the child.  The Cabinet substantiated the fourth sexual abuse allegation as well as the allegation that L.G. emotionally abused the child. 

The Jefferson Family Court addressed both issues presented by the Cabinet and ultimately found that L.G. did emotionally abuse the child, but that J.M. did not sexually abuse the child.  Thereafter, the child was removed from L.G.’s custody and her visits were limited to therapeutic visits.  L.G. appealed, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed the family court and remanded.  The Cabinet and J.M. moved for discretionary review by the Supreme Court, which the Court granted, and considered both appeals concurrently.

Both appeals purported the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the Jefferson Family Court’s decision that L.G. emotionally abused the child.  L.G. argued, in response, that the family court failed to exclude the licensed psychologist’s opinions, that J.M. did not have standing to prosecute the Cabinet’s Dependency, Neglect, or Abuse (DNA) petition against her, and that the Jefferson Family Court abused its discretion when removing the child from her custody.

The Court found that the Court of Appeals made factual findings rather than deferring to the trial court on those issues (i.e., weighing evidence contained in medical reports and evaluations).  The Court noted that, given the evidence presented at the trial court level, there was “some evidence of substance and relevant consequence, having the fitness to induce conviction in the minds of reasonable people,” to support the finding of emotional abuse by L.G.  Ultimately, the Court held that the Jefferson Family Court’s findings were not clearly erroneous, and therefore, reversed and affirmed the finding of the family court that L.G. emotionally abused the child.

The Court further found that the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying L.G.’s motion to exclude the licensed psychologist’s opinions, that the family court did not abuse its discretion in allowing J.M.’s counsel question the licensed psychologist to expedite the hearing progress (and therefore causing the issue raised by L.G. to be moot because J.M.’s counsel did not prosecute the DNA matter), nor did the family court abuse its discretion in removing the child from L.G.’s custody.

As a result, the Court found the Jefferson Family Court was not clearly erroneous nor did it abuse its discretion in finding L.G. emotionally abused the child and removing him from her custody, and reversed the Court of Appeals decision, reinstating the family court orders.

Caitlin P. Kidd, Esq.

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