State of Utah, in the interest of J.A. and C.A., persons under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. C.A., Appellant,
District Juvenile Court, Ogden Department The Honorable
Sherene T. Dillon No. 1118574
B. Richards, Attorney for Appellant
D. Reyes and John M. Peterson, Attorneys for Appellee
Pierce, Guardian ad Litem
Michele M. Christiansen authored this Opinion, in which
Judges Kate A. Toomey and David N. Mortensen concurred.
C.A. (Father) appeals from the juvenile court's
adjudication order, in which the court found that Father had
severely abused one of his children and neglected both of
them. We affirm.
Father and A.Z. (Mother) had two children-J.A. (Older Child)
and C.A. (Younger Child). Older Child was born in November
2012, and Younger Child was born in April 2015.
On July 21, 2015, Mother left for work around 7:30 a.m.,
leaving Father at home to care for the children. Younger
Child was awake and smiling when Mother left.
According to Father, Younger Child took a nap from 9:30 to
11:30 a.m., and both children took naps around 1:00 p.m. As
Father watched television, he heard a "choking"
sound coming from Younger Child's room and went to check
on him. Father took Younger Child into the living room.
Younger Child was limp and did not appear to be breathing.
According to Father, he unsuccessfully attempted CPR and
The first responding officer observed that Younger Child was
nonresponsive, that his arms were "straight out in
front" of him, that his "hands were locked, "
and that he had very shallow breathing. The officer later
testified that Father told him that he "shook [Younger
Child] a little bit" to try to clear his airways.
An ambulance transported Younger Child to a local hospital,
where a CT scan revealed that he had a subdural hematoma. The
hospital requested an airlift to Primary Children's
Medical Center (PCMC), where doctors stabilized Younger Child
and performed additional tests and scans on him. The
additional testing revealed that Younger Child had two
subdural hematomas, one older and one more recent. He also
had retinal hemorrhaging, fractured ribs, and a neck injury.
The incident ultimately left Younger Child with significant
and permanent brain damage.
Police obtained search warrants for the family's house
and for the parents' cell phones. After conferring with
physicians at PCMC, who ultimately concluded that Younger
Child's injuries were the result of nonaccidental trauma,
police officers arrested Father. The State obtained a warrant
to take both children into custody and filed a verified
petition alleging abuse and neglect based on the July 21,
The police extracted several text messages from each
parent's cell phone. A detective (Detective) sifted
through the texts and compiled the ones he believed were
relevant to the investigation. For example, in a June 24,
2015 text to Mother, Father stated, "I think you should
take the kids. He is getting me to a new level." Mother
responded, "[D]o whatever you need to get away and take
a break." And in a June 27, 2015 text, Father sent
Mother a picture of a bruise on Younger Child's neck.
Mother responded with "W.T.F." and "OMG . . .
that is a really bad bruise."
In December 2015, the juvenile court held a four-day
adjudication trial. Father testified that he watched the
children about half of the time. Father added that Younger
Child had choking issues from birth and had also been
diagnosed with acid reflux. He denied ever
"shaking" Younger Child, stating that he only ever
"slight[ly] bounce[d]" Younger Child to help him
clear his airways. In an apparent attempt to explain Younger
Child's rib injuries, Father testified that about a week
before the incident, Mother had been driving and was forced
to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. Father testified
that Younger Child was sleeping in the car at the time and
did not wake up or cry.
Regarding Younger Child's neck injury, Father described
an incident in which Older Child had allegedly tripped over
Younger Child. Father stated that Younger Child seemed
"startled" after Older Child tripped over him, but
that he did not cry. Father told Mother about the incident
via text message. Father admitted that he had initially lied
to her about what had happened; he told her that Younger
Child had gotten the bruise by lying on his pacifier. Father
also discussed his text messages with Mother regarding a
bruise on Younger Child's forehead and stated that the
forehead bruise came from the same tripping incident. Father
acknowledged that Younger Child's injuries were
"pretty severe, " but he denied causing them.
The first responding officer testified about what he had
witnessed when he arrived at the family's house on the
day of the incident. Although the first responding officer
testified that Father admitted he "shook [Younger Child]
a little bit" to try to get him to respond, another
officer stated that Father told him that Father had
"jiggled and bounced" Younger Child and
"flatly" denied shaking Younger Child. While he was
in the house, the first responding officer heard a sound
coming from another room. When he opened the door he found
Older Child, who had been locked inside the room with a
child-proof lock. The room smelled like urine. Father was
upset that the officer had opened Older Child's door and
stopped the officer from talking to Older Child. Father told
Older Child to "remember what I told you." The
officer described the family's house as
"cluttered" but "not overly dirty."
A second responding officer testified that he observed Father
arguing with the first responding officer about why he had
opened Older Child's bedroom door. The second officer
testified that Father was more concerned with the police
presence than with Younger Child's welfare. Father asked
the first responding officer to leave several times, stating
that he "didn't want police there."
The first responding officer further testified that he had
executed the warrant to seize the parents' cell phones.
The officer stated that he had taken the phones, turned them
off, removed the batteries, and given them to detectives.
Detective testified that a "data dump" was
performed on the phones and that he had been provided with
two thumb drives containing "all of the content from
those phones." Detective "looked through all the
messages, the pictures, . . . [and] the videos and put the
content together for the text messages leading up to and the
day of the incident that occurred." He testified that he
"didn't include all of the texts" in his police
report; he only included "texts [he] felt [were]
relevant to this case and with communication between [Father]
and [Mother] or anybody else that would have had anything to
do with [Younger Child] and [his] health and
Three medical experts testified at the trial. The head of the
Safe and Healthy Families Team at PCMC (Doctor) testified for
the State. Doctor testified generally about "shaken baby
syndrome" and clarified that it was properly referred to
as "abusive head trauma." Doctor testified that
none of the parents' explanations adequately accounted
for Younger Child's injuries.
Doctor testified in detail about Younger Child's
injuries. She testified that Younger Child suffered retinal
hemorrhages in both of his eyes and that "this
particular pattern where it's in multiple layers of the
retina and goes all the way out to the aura is specific-not
entirely specific, but very specific for rotational injury by
shaking." Doctor observed that Younger Child's CT
scan showed that he had an older subdural hematoma, but she
testified that it was unlikely that the newer hematoma was a
"re-bleed of the chronic ones" based on Younger
Child's symptoms. Doctor also testified regarding other
possible causes for Younger Child's injuries, but she
stated that "nothing seemed to fit the pattern of
anything other than abusive head trauma and physical abuse to
explain all of [Younger Child's] injuries." Doctor
explained that a baby like Younger Child "would have
symptoms immediately after having sustained these
A board-certified radiologist (Radiologist) testified for the
State regarding Younger Child's rib fractures. He
testified that x-rays showed calcification of Younger
Child's rib fractures, which is indicative of healing. He
also testified that the fractures would not have been caused
by Father's attempts at CPR. Radiologist testified that
Younger Child's rib injuries appeared to be "about
seven to fourteen days" old as of the July 21, 2015
incident. He ruled out rickets as the cause of Younger
Child's rib injuries.
At the close of the State's case-in-chief, Father moved
for involuntary dismissal pursuant to rule 41(b) of the Utah
Rules of Civil Procedure. Father argued that the State had
failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that he was
responsible for Younger Child's injuries. Father also
argued that the Juvenile Court Act was unconstitutional as
applied to him. The court denied Father's motion for
involuntary dismissal and took his constitutional argument
under advisement, stating that it would decide those issues
after all of the evidence had been presented.
Thereafter, Father's expert (Father's Expert)
testified that all of Younger Child's subdural hematomas
were the result of a "re-bleed" from a subdural
hematoma that likely occurred during Younger Child's
birth, combined with rickets. Father's Expert
acknowledged that, while he had considerable experience as an
emergency room physician, he had no special training in
diagnosing child abuse and was not a trained radiologist. On
rebuttal, Doctor disagreed with Father's Expert that
Younger Child's newer subdural hematoma was the result of
a "re-bleed." Doctor explained that the entire
collection of Younger Child's injuries, including
subdural hematomas, 360-degree multilayer retinal
hemorrhaging, neck injury, and rib fractures, could
reasonably be explained only by traumatic shaking incidents.
In March 2016, the juvenile court entered an order
adjudicating both children as neglected by the parents. The
court found that Younger Child had suffered two rib fractures
within a two-week period surrounding his "acute
injuries." In addition, the court found that Younger
Child had been severely abused by Father. The court rejected
Father's argument regarding the constitutionality of the
Juvenile Court Act.
On January 6, 2017, the juvenile court terminated
Father's parental rights on the grounds that (1) Father
had "abandoned his children and failed to show the
normal interest of a natural parent"; (2) Father had
"severely abused or neglected" the children; (3)
Father was an "unfit or incompetent parent"; (4)
Father had "been unable or unwilling to remedy the
circumstances that caused the children to be in an
out-of-home placement" and there was a "substantial
likelihood that [he would] not be capable of exercising
proper and effective parental care in the near future";
(5) Father's actions constituted a failure of parental
adjustment; and (6) Father had "made only token efforts
to support or to communicate with the children." As far
as this court is aware, Father has not appealed from the
juvenile court's order terminating his parental rights in
the children. have been terminated, "Father no
longer has a justiciable claim" and "this
Court's resolution of a claim going to Children's
abuse and neglect status would have no legal effect." We
are not persuaded.
juvenile courts are created by statute and have limited
jurisdiction. Their powers are limited to those specifically
conferred by the statute." In re B.B., 2004 UT 39,
¶ 13, 94 P.3d 252 (citation omitted). Pursuant to
section 78A-6-103 of Utah's Juvenile Court Act, a
juvenile court has "exclusive original jurisdiction in
proceedings concerning . . . a child who is an abused child,
neglected child, or dependent child." Utah Code Ann.
§ 78A-6-103(1)(c) (LexisNexis 2012). Pursuant to section
78A-6-117, "[w]hen a minor is found to come within the
provisions of Section 78A-6-103, the court shall so
adjudicate." Id. § 78A-6-117(1)(a) (Supp.
2016). "'Adjudication' means a finding by the
court, incorporated in a judgment or decree, that the facts
alleged in the petition have been proved." Utah R. Juv.
P. 5(b). "Once the juvenile court has adjudicated the
child as ...