R.C. v. Department of Children and Family Services, 2014 WL 6679008 (Fla. 3rd DCA)

Mother petitioned the Third District Court of Appeal (Third DCA) for a writ of certiorari from a sua sponte order directing her to submit to a pregnancy test. The Third DCA quashed the order, finding that the trial court failed to provide Mother notice, and that there was no showing of good cause to support such an order.

During a status hearing for a termination of parental rights proceeding, the guardian ad litem expressed concern that Mother may have been pregnant. Mother only answered “I don’t know” when asked directly under oath. The trial court ordered Mother to have a pregnancy test, stating “so she probably is pregnant and not getting prenatal care” and “I want to test her since it would be to her benefit to know if she’s pregnant or not.”

The trial court ordered mother to submit to a pregnancy test, first on the court’s belief it would be a violation of her case plan for her to become pregnant. After mother’s counsel corrected that misconception, the trial court ordered the pregnancy test on the basis that if she is pregnant, “she’s hurting her fetus by not getting prenatal care.”

The Third District Court of Appeal (Third DCA) held that the trial court could not enter order compelling mother to take a pregnancy test.   The Third DCA stated that “a competent person has the constitutional right to … refuse medical treatment,” In re Guardianship of Browning, 568 So.2d 4, 11 (Fla.1990), and that right “can only be overcome if the state has a compelling state interest great enough to override this constitutional right.” See Burton v. State, 49 So.3d 263, 265 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010) (quoting Singletary v. Costello , 665 So.2d 1099, 1105 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996)). No such analysis was done or attempted in this case.

Additionally, no prior notice had been given to Mother that a pregnancy test could be ordered. None of the information required by Rule 8.250(b) which sets forth when the court can have a person subjected to a physical or mental examination, was included in the court’s written order or addressed on the record.

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