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Price v. Division of Family Services

Supreme Court of Delaware

October 6, 2017

SAMANTHA PRICE, [1] Respondent Below-Appellant,
DIVISION OF FAMILY SERVICES, Petitioner Below-Appellee.

          Submitted: August 18, 2017

         Court Below-Family Court of the State of Delaware File No. CS09-03588, Petition No. 16-15944

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and VAUGHN Justices.



         This 6th day of October 2017, upon consideration of the parties' briefs, the supplemental filings, [2] and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The respondent-appellant, Samantha Price ("Price"), filed this appeal from the Family Court's order, dated September 27, 2016, terminating her guardianship over her two minor nieces, Xenia (born November 10, 2008), and Marci (born December 4, 2009). We find no error in the Family Court's judgment. Thus, we affirm.

         (2) Price is the sister of the girls' mother ("Mother").[3] The Family Court named Price the guardian of Xenia and Marci in August 2009 and December 2009, respectively, due to Mother's substance abuse and mental health issues and the unknown identity of either girl's father. In June 2016, the Division of Family Services ("DFS") received a hotline report about possible physical abuse of the girls by Price. The hotline report also alleged that Price was allowing the girls to stay with Mother while Mother was using drugs and that Mother's housemate may have been sexually inappropriate with the children.

         (3) On June 3, 2016, the Family Court entered an emergency ex parte order awarding custody of the girls to DFS. The Family Court held a preliminary protective hearing on June 9, 2016 and an adjudicatory hearing on DFS' petition to rescind Price's guardianship on July 7, 2016. Price opposed the petition.

         (4) The testimony at the hearing reflected Price had no negative history with DFS regarding the girls before the June 2016 hotline report. After the report, DFS began an investigation that included personal interviews with the girls, one of Price's biological children, a number of people involved in the girls' education, counseling, and home life, and Price herself. Multiple sources stated that the girls had reported being "beat" with an open hand, a ruler or other piece of wood, and a flip-flop. Several interviewees also said they were concerned for the girls' general well-being and adjustment and were worried that Marci was not getting proper nutrition or medical care.

         (5) The Family Court found clear and convincing evidence that Price had physically abused the girls, that she did not obtain appropriate medical care for Marci, that she had left the girls in someone else's care for an extended period of time, that the girls were not well adjusted to their home, school, or community while in Price's care, that Price allowed the children to visit Mother despite Mother's drug use, and that there was evidence of domestic violence. After weighing the best interest factors in 13 Del. C. § 722, the Family Court concluded that it was in the girls' best interests that Price's guardianship be rescinded and that DFS be granted custody of the girls. This appeal followed.

         (6) On appeal, this Court reviews the Family Court's factual and legal determinations as well as its inferences and deductions.[4] We will not disturb the Family Court's rulings on appeal if the court's findings of fact are supported by the record and its explanations, deductions, and inferences are the product of an orderly and logical reasoning process.[5] We review legal rulings de novo.[6] If the Family Court correctly applied the law, then our standard of review is abuse of discretion.[7] On issues of witness credibility, we will not substitute our judgment for that of the trier of fact.[8]

         (7) In her opening brief, Price argues that the Family Court erred in finding that she had abused the children, that she had neglected Marci's medical issues, and that the children were not well-adjusted in her home. Price also contends that the Family Court erred in accepting the testimony of witnesses whom Price claimed lied and in not appointing counsel to represent her. Price does not argue that the Family Court misapplied or misinterpreted the law.

         (8) Under 13 Del. C. § 2512(b), the Family Court may award custody of a child to the State only if the parties agree or, after a hearing, the Family Court finds: (i) as to each parent that the child is dependent, neglected, or abused; and (ii) it is in the child's best interest to award custody to the State.[9] To determine the best interest of the child, the court must consider all relevant factors as outlined in 13 Del. C. § 722.

         (9) Under Section 722, the Family Court considers "all relevant factors" including: (1) the wishes of the parents and the child as to his or her custody and residential arrangement; (2) the wishes of the child as to his or her custodian or custodians and residential arrangements; (3) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parents, grandparents, siblings, persons cohabiting in the relationship of husband and wife with a parent of the child, any other residents of the household or persons who may significantly affect the child's best interests; (4) the child's adjustment to his or her home, school and community; (5) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; (6) past and present compliance by both parents with their rights and responsibilities to their child under § 701 of this title; (7) evidence of domestic violence as provided for in Chapter 7A of this title; and (8) the criminal history of any party or any other resident of the household including whether the criminal history contains pleas of guilty or no contest or a conviction of a criminal offense.[10] These factors ...

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