Court of Appeals: Div. III – “Permanent” Does Not Mean “Forever”
This is a sad case where perhaps the law failed. When J.R. was five years old, his mother relinquished her parental rights to him. A guardianship was ordered and the guardianship put J.R. in the care of his grandmother and another relative. After 10 years the guardians requested that the juvenile court terminate the guardianship. At this point J.R. was 15 years old and his mother had apparently cleaned up her act. J.R. wanted to live with his mother.
RCW 13.34.215(1) allows dependent children to petition for reinstatement of parental rights if four conditions are present:
1. The child was previously found to be a dependent child under this chapter;
2. The child's parent's rights were terminated in a proceeding under this chapter;
3. The child has not achieved his or her permanency plan within three years of a final order of termination; and
4. The child must be at least twelve years old at the time the petition is filed.
There was no doubt that J.R. met the first, second, and fourth conditions, but the State argued that he did not meet the third condition because there was a permanency plan in place when the guardianship was ordered. Under the same statutory chapter, “permanency plan of care” includes guardianships. J.R. argued that since the guardianship was terminated after 10 years, it couldn’t have been permanent. The State countered that “permanent” does not mean forever, it simply means “intended to last.”
The Court of Appeals agreed with the State citing legislative intent, the unambiguous language of the statute, and the ever powerful Webster’s Dictionary. J.R. also claimed that the statute violated his right to substantive due process and equal protection, but the Court didn’t agree. The decision was affirmed. However, the opinion did state even though the juvenile court found that there was no statutory support for J.R.’s petition, “the court indicated that the State would continue to explore permanency plan options for him.” Hopefully the right result was obtained.