State of Utah, in the interest of N.S., a person under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. C.S., Appellant,
District Juvenile Court, Farmington Department The Honorable
Sharon S. Sipes No. 1172135
B. Richards, Attorney for Appellant
D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys
Pierce, Guardian ad Litem
Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster, David N. Mortensen,
and Ryan M. Harris.
C.S. (Father) appeals a disposition order that denied him
reunification services and set a primary permanency goal of
adoption. The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) moves to dismiss this
child welfare appeal, arguing that it is not taken from a
final appealable order. Father opposes dismissal. The State
did not respond to the motion to dismiss, but it filed a
response to the petition on appeal stating that it disagrees
with the GAL's position on jurisdiction.
The juvenile court entered an adjudication order on June 19,
2019, which was based upon the Father's admissions under
rule 34(e) of the Utah Rules of Juvenile Procedure. The
juvenile court placed N.S. in the custody and guardianship of
the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) for
appropriate placement, after finding that N.S. was a
neglected child as provided in Utah Code section
78A-6-105(39karent)(a)(iv). See Utah Code Ann.
§ 78A-6-105(39)(a)(iv) (LexisNexis Supp. 2019) (defining
"neglect" as "action or inaction causing. . .
a child to be at risk of being neglected or abused because
another child in the same home is neglected or abused").
DCFS prepared a proposed Child and Family Plan for
consideration by the juvenile court because Father and the
child's mother (Mother) wanted to regain custody of N.S.
and had advised the DCFS caseworker that they were willing to
participate in services to get N.S. back. The proposed plan
outlined possible services for a permanency goal of
reunification and a concurrent goal of adoption.
At the dispositional hearing held on June 18, 2019, the
juvenile court reviewed the proposed Child and Family Plan
submitted by DCFS and issued a written disposition order that
same day. In that order, the juvenile court found that
Father's repeated sexual abuse of A.S.-a sibling of
N.S.-constituted "a threat of serious harm" to
N.S., "who is a vulnerable female child residing in the
same home." The juvenile court considered whether
services would be appropriate before ruling that the
"Child and Family Plan is moot" regarding N.S.,
"in light of the Court's order that reunification
will not be offered." On July 2, 2019, Father filed a
notice of appeal from the disposition order, which he
incorrectly characterized as terminating juvenile court
jurisdiction over the child welfare case and placing custody
of the child with a relative. On August 2, 2019, the State
filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights as
a prerequisite to effectuating the permanency goal of
The GAL moved to dismiss this appeal, arguing that a
disposition order denying reunification services and setting
a permanency goal of adoption was not final and appealable.
The GAL notes that Father did not appeal the adjudication
order, which was based upon his rule 34(e) admissions.
See Utah R. Juv. P. 34(e) (providing that a
respondent may answer a petition by neither admitting nor
denying the allegations and that any allegations not
specifically denied "shall be deemed true"). The
GAL cites In re A.T., 2015 UT 41, 353 P.3d 131, for
the proposition that a parent may object to the lack of
reunification services at the termination hearing
"because the earlier dispositional hearing was neither
final nor appealable." Id. ¶ 13.
Father and the State argue that this court has previously
determined that dispositional orders such as the denial of
reunification services for a parent are final and appealable
as a matter of right, citing In re S.A.K., 2003 UT
App 87, 67 P.3d 1037. In In re S.A.K., the juvenile
court issued a memorandum decision finding the child to have
been sexually abused. Id. ¶ 5. After a
disposition hearing roughly one month later, the juvenile
court entered an "Adjudication/Disposition Order,"
which included findings that the child was abused and
neglected and placed the child in the custody of relatives.
Id. ¶ 6. Mother appealed, seeking to raise
issues regarding the adjudication hearing. Id.
¶ 7. The GAL argued that this court lacked jurisdiction
because Mother failed to timely appeal the earlier
adjudication decision. Id. ¶ 10. This court
compared the adjudication and the disposition in child
welfare cases to the conviction and the sentencing in
criminal cases. See id. ¶ 14.
"Consequently, an appeal from a disposition order should
be sufficient to allege errors occurring in the adjudication
proceedings, just as an appeal after sentencing in a criminal
case may allege errors in the trial as well as
sentencing." Id. Thus, this court concluded it
had jurisdiction over Mother's appeal of a ruling during
the adjudication hearing because she timely filed a notice of
appeal after the disposition hearing order. Id.
In our view, this case is factually distinguishable from
In re S.A.K. In In re S.A.K., this court
allowed an appeal of the adjudication based upon a notice of
appeal filed after what appears to have been a combined
adjudication and disposition order. In contrast, Father in
this appeal does not challenge the adjudication, which was
based upon his rule 34(e) admissions, and instead he
challenges the subsequent denial of reunification services
and the setting of a permanency goal of adoption at the
Furthermore, after this court's 2003 decision in In
re S.A.K., the Utah Supreme Court articulated a test for
determining which orders in a child welfare case are final
and appealable as a matter of right. See In re A.F.,
2007 UT 69, ¶4, 167 P.3d 1070. An order in a child
welfare case is final and appealable "only if it effects
a change in the status of the child." Id. An
order that does not effect a change in a child's
permanent status and serves "only as an interim
determination made in anticipation of additional
proceedings" is not final and appealable. Id.;
see also In re K.F., 2009 UT 4, ¶¶ 37-42,
201 P.3d 985 (applying test for finality); In re
A.T., 2015 UT 41, ¶ 13, 353 P.3d 131 (same).
"All other orders may be appealed at the discretion of
the appellate court as interlocutory appeals." In re
K.F., 2009 UT 4, ¶ 35.
Applying the case law to the facts of this case, the
disposition order denying reunification services and setting
a permanency goal of adoption is not final and appealable
because it does not effectuate "a permanent change in
the child's status," id. ¶ 38, and
further proceedings are necessary to effectuate the goal of
adoption, see id. ¶ 39. Father can request
reunification services or demonstrate parental fitness at any
time before termination. See In re A.F., 2007 UT 69,
¶ 8. "A mere change in a permanency goal or the
creation of a 'final plan' [does] not affect the
Child's status in the absence of further action taken to
realize the goal or implement the plan." Id.
¶ 9; see also In re A.T., 2015 UT 41, ¶ 13
("In many cases, these hearings result in orders that
merely set a direction for the remainder of the proceedings,