When Methamphetamine Use Did Not Harm the Child

Child [C] lived with her Uncle [U] and a friend of his [F].  U had full custody of C.  In 2013, when C was three years old, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services [Department] removed C from her mother’s [M] custody and allowed U to foster-parent C.  C’s siblings were also fostered butto other homes.  In 2015, U became C’s legal guardian.  U is M’s brother.

In September of 2018, a Department social worker was visiting M’s home where she encountered U.  She also observed U and M arguing.  She stated U mumbled, used profanity, and appeared to be under the influence.  She did not identify the substance she believed U used nor the reasons why she concluded that he was under the influence.

In October of 2018, Department filed a petition with the juvenile court under Section 300 of the California Welfare & Institutions Code stating: “…[U] is a current abuser of amphetamine and methamphetamine which renders [him] unable to provide regular care of the child.  [U] had positive toxicology screens for amphetamine and methamphetamine on 09/04/2018 and 08/21/2018, while the child was in [U]’s care and supervision.  The child is of such a young age as to require constant care and supervision and [U]’s substance abuse interferes with providing regular care of the child.  [U]’s substance abuse endangers the child’s physical health and safety, creates a detrimental home environment and places the child at risk of serious physical harm, damage and danger.”  (Two weeks later, U tested negative for all controlled substances including methamphetamine.)

At the hearing, the social worker testified that U tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine twice, but he refused to admit he had a drug problem.  Because C was so young and needed constant supervision, she believed that C should be placed in foster care like her siblings. 

U testified that he had smoked meth at parties four or five times, but at no time was C affected.  C was staying with F when U was at a party, and he never came home impaired.  He also stated that he had not used methamphetamine since September of 2018.

A toxicologist also testified at the hearing regarding U’s September 4, 2018 and August 21, 2018 blood tests.  The tests indicated that he used methamphetamine within three to five days of those tests.  However, the drug tests did not show whether U was impaired as a result of his methamphetamine use.   The toxicologist determined that U did not use amphetamine.  U tested positive for amphetamine because it was a metabolite of the methamphetamine.  According to the toxicologist, “…a chronic methamphetamine user suffers side effects including sleep deprivation, weight loss, and an inability to function normally…”  (U was obese.  He weighed 360 pounds.)

F testified that U was a very good parent to C.  He took to and from school, he read to her every night, took to her medical appointments and made sure she was safe.

The juvenile court agreed with the Department and U appealed.

The Appellate Court reversed stating:  “We hold that evidence of a legal guardian’s occasional methamphetamine use outside the legal guardian’s home and while the child was in the care of another adult in the home does not support dependency jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b).1  No substantial evidence showed that the legal guardian abused methamphetamine, and no substantial evidence showed that the child was at risk of serious physical harm.  We therefore reverse the juvenile court’s jurisdictional order.”

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