E.R. v. Department of Children and Families, 143 So. 3rd 1131 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014)

The Fourth District Court of Appeal (Fourth DCA) reversed the trial court’s order adjudicating Mother and Father’s children dependent. Specifically, the Fourth DCA (in E.R.) held that the trial court’s finding that Mother “placed both the minor children at imminent risk of neglect and harm” was not supported by “competent, substantial evidence.”

The underlying case was initiated after the children’s paternal grandparents reported the children and the father missing. Father had obtained sole custody of E.B. after alleging that Mother would either ignore the child to the point of neglect or “commit inappropriate physical acts such as poking her unnecessarily causing trauma.” Grandmother testified regarding similar concerns. The family court judge provided mother “no time sharing.”

Approximately one year later, Father did not go to work or take the child to daycare and the grandparents could not reach father. The grandparents were concerned for Father in part due to his mental health history. The Department located Father, Mother and the children in a hotel room, where Father reported they were starting a family of their own away from the grandparents. The Department had no safety concerns for the children and found that the parents had what they needed to adequately provide for them. The mother had outstanding warrants. She was arrested and the children were taken into custody.

The trial court found the children to be dependent because “the mother placed both the minor children at imminent risk of neglect and harm.” The court cited Mother’s past mistreatment of E.B., her violation of the no time sharing order, her failure to contest the family court order and her homelessness and unemployment.

The Fourth DCA found that the allegations regarding E.B. which allegedly occurred 18 months prior to the dependency hearing were “too remote in time to support and adjudication of dependency.” With regard to A.R. the only evidence presented was that mother took A.R. to be with the father and E.B. To adjudicate a child dependent, the court must be presented competent and substantial evidence that the child is in imminent risk of neglect and harm. No such evidence was presented.

In B.B., Father’s appeal of the same case, the Fourth DCA reversed the finding of dependency for the reasons delineated in Mother’s appeal. The Fourth DCA noted that the children were adjudicated dependent as to both parents on the basis of one hearing after which one order was issued.

Read the Opinion  E.R. v. Department of Children and Families

Read the Opinion B.B. v. Department of Children and Families