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Rowan B. v. State, Department of Health & Social Services

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 21, 2014

ROWAN B., Sr. and RISA F., Appellants,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES, OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES, Appellee.

Appeal from the Superior Court Nos. 3PA-12-00057, 3PA-12-00058, 3PA-12-00059 CN of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Kari Kristiansen, Judge.

Rachel Cella, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Rowan B., Sr. Michael A. Rose, Frontier Law Group, LLC, for Appellant.

Risa F. Joanne Grace, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Rowan B., Sr. and Risa F. appeal the adjudication of their children as children in need of aid.[1] The adjudication was based on allegations that Rowan had physically and sexually abused their daughter and Risa's daughters from an earlier relationship and that Risa was too mentally ill to care for the children. Risa challenges the finding that her mental illness prevents her from adequately parenting the children. Rowan raises numerous challenges to the trial court's actions, including arguments about notice and denial of materials during discovery. We hold that the trial court erred in denying Rowan access to materials he sought through discovery without at least conducting an in camera review. We retain jurisdiction and remand the case to the trial court for further limited proceedings.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Rowan and Risa are the divorced parents of three children: Agnes, Rowan Junior (Junior), and Saul. Risa suffers from schizoaffective bipolar disorder, which she does not always treat as prescribed. After the parties divorced in 2006, Rowan had custody of the parties' three children as well as Risa's two older children, Aeryn and Reagan, who now are adults. The State of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services, Office of Children's Services (OCS) had contact with the family at the time the parents divorced, but OCS released the children to Rowan after working with him for a period of time.

In 2012 Aeryn reported that Rowan had sexually and physically abused both her and Reagan over a number of years. She said she did not report the abuse earlier because she was "afraid for [her] life" due to Rowan's threats. Aeryn said Rowan impregnated her when she was 17 and threatened to kill her with a two-by-four; she left the home the next day. Aeryn also said that Rowan had beaten Risa but used Risa's mental illness against her when Risa reported the abuse.

Aeryn became concerned that Rowan was sexually abusing Agnes, and when Agnes was visiting Risa for the summer, Aeryn asked Agnes about it. Although Agnes initially denied any abuse, Aeryn later took Agnes to Alaska CARES, where Agnes detailed several years of sexual and physical abuse by Rowan.

Agnes said that Rowan began sexually abusing her when she was 11 and that Rowan put his penis in her vagina the first time he had sexual contact with her. She described other sexual abuse as well. Agnes also reported that Rowan physically abused her by hitting her with his hands, a belt, and an extension cord. She described seeing Rowan sexually abuse Reagan once, when Agnes was "little." Agnes said that Junior was Rowan's favorite child and as a result received little punishment. She indicated that Rowan sometimes spanked Saul "on the butt" with his hand when Saul misbehaved.

OCS removed Junior and Saul from Rowan's home in June 2012; Agnes had not returned to Rowan's home and was living with Aeryn. OCS filed an emergency petition for custody of all three children shortly afterwards. The emergency petition alleged that the children were in need of aid under several subsections of AS 47.10.011, including subsections (6) (physical harm), (7) (sexual abuse or risk of ...


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