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Jessica J. v. State

Supreme Court of Alaska

June 14, 2019

JESSICA J., a Minor, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska No. 4FA-18-00019 DL, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Thomas I. Temple, Judge.

          Diana Wildridge, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for Appellant.

          Aisha Tinker Bray, Assistant Attorney General, Fairbanks, and Kevin G. Clarkson, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          WINFREE, JUSTICE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ) governs the return of juveniles who have left their home states without permission. With her mother's permission, a juvenile left her home state to visit family friends in Alaska; she then refused to return home. The home state sought her return under the ICJ, and the Alaska superior court complied. The superior court found that it was not authorized to consider the juvenile's best interests and that the requisition paperwork demonstrated proof of entitlement for her return. We affirm the superior court's order, holding that the ICJ authorizes only the home state to consider a juvenile's best interests in this context and that proof of entitlement was established in this case.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         In late April 2018,15-year-old Jessica J.[1] traveled from Iowa to Alaska to spend the summer with family friends. Jessica's divorced parents shared legal custody; her mother, who retained primary physical custody, gave Jessica permission. Jessica's mother then changed her mind and told Jessica to return home. Jessica's mother booked several return flights for Jessica, the final on May 30.

         On May 30 Jessica's mother reported to Iowa police that the Alaska family friends refused to send Jessica home; the police treated Jessica as a missing person. Alaska police located her at the family friends' home and indicated she was "safe until [her] mother c[ould] pay for plane fare out of Alaska." But the Iowa police still considered Jessica a missing person, and a week later Alaska police located her at a shelter, where she apparently had gone to avoid getting "the family that she was staying with in trouble if there were legal repercussions ... for staying in Alaska." Police transported her to a youth facility pending further legal proceedings.

         The following day the State petitioned the Alaska superior court to "commence AS 47.15 Interstate Compact for Juvenile proceedings." The superior court appointed counsel for Jessica and held five hearings on the matter. At the first hearing, the court appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) for Jessica. The court acknowledged, but did not consider, a petition for a domestic violence protective order that Jessica's father, who also lived in Alaska, had filed on her behalf against her mother.

         At the second hearing, the superior court dismissed the father's petition for a domestic violence protective order, but it noted that it would consider a new petition if Jessica's "attorney and/or her GAL now determine that she should have a [domestic violence] order." The court stated that "if, in fact, the mother started this on a false basis, which is that [Jessica] was missing or a runaway, that could affect whether or not the requisition from Iowa is, in fact, in order." The court also stated that if Jessica were returned to Iowa, there were "avenues other than living at home down there. And, in fact, [her] father could file for change of custody or whatever else he might think is appropriate for him to do."

         Before the next hearing, Jessica's mother filed a petition and supporting documents in the Iowa court seeking Jessica's forced return under ICJ Rule 6-103(3).[2] The Iowa court filled out the responsive paperwork, which included a finding that Jessica "has run away; and that [Jessica's] continued absence from legal custody and control is detrimental to the best interest of [Jessica] and the public." Iowa's ICJ office sent the required paperwork to Alaska's attorney general, who, in turn, notified the superior court and requested a hearing.[3]

         At the third hearing, the superior court formally notified Jessica of the requisition per ICJ Rule 6-103(6).[4] There was significant debate whether the ICJ applied, and the court believed that Jessica should "have the opportunity ... to present evidence to a court" that she should not be sent back. Noting mixed authority on whether holding states may consider a juvenile runaway's best interests before ordering return, the court stated that "there is good reason to have the hearing held." At the fourth hearing, the superior court denied the order to enforce the requisition, in part due to concerns about it being based on false information regarding whether Jessica was missing. The court ordered additional briefing on relevant case law and how to proceed.

         By the fifth hearing, in September, the superior court judge assigned to the case had retired; the newly assigned judge found that Jessica was subject to the ICJ as a runaway. The court concluded that "there is no authority for this court to conduct a best-interests hearing" and that it would conduct a hearing only to determine whether the requisition paperwork was in order. At the final hearing, the superior court determined there was proof of entitlement and ordered Jessica's forced return to Iowa.

         Jessica appeals, arguing that the superior court erred by failing to consider her best interests as part of the ICJ requisition proceeding and by finding there was proof of entitlement for her return to Iowa.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "We use our independent judgment to review matters of . . . statutory interpretation."[5] And we do so "according to reason, practicality, and common sense, considering the meaning of the statute's language, its legislative history, and its purpose."[6]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. The ICJ Does Not Authorize The Holding State To Conduct A Best-Interests Analysis Before Ordering A Juvenile Runaway's Return.

         1. The ICJ's plain language does not authorize the holding state to consider a juvenile runaway's best interests.

         The ICJ governs the transportation of juveniles across state lines.[7] Nearly every state has adopted some version of the ICJ.[8] The ICJ declares that compacting states "recognize that each state is responsible for the proper supervision or return of juveniles... who have absconded, escaped, or run away."[9] These states "also recognize that each state is responsible for the safe return of juveniles who have run away from home and in doing so have left their state of residence."[10]

         ICJ Rule 6-103 governs the non-voluntary return of runaways. This rule provides that the runaway juvenile's legal guardian "shall petition the court of jurisdiction in the home/demanding state for a requisition."[11] If the home state judge determines, among other things, "that said juvenile's continued absence from legal custody and control is detrimental to the best interest of said juvenile and the public," the judge completes a Form I Requisition for Runaway Juvenile.[12] The form and requisition packet then are forwarded to the holding state, and the "court in the holding state shall inform the juvenile of the demand made for his/her return and may elect to appoint counsel or a [GAL]."[13] The "purpose of said hearing is to determine proof of entitlement for the return of the juvenile."[14] Although the ICJ rules do not define "proof of entitlement," if it "is not established, the [holding state] judge shall issue written findings detailing the reason(s) for denial."[15]

         ICJ Rule 6-105 concerns the return of juveniles when there are reports of abuse or neglect. Under that section:

When a holding state has reason to suspect abuse or neglect by a person in the home/demanding state, the holding state's ICJ Office shall notify the home/demanding state's ICJ Office of the suspected abuse or neglect. The home/demanding state's ICJ Office shall work with the appropriate authority and/or court of competent jurisdiction in the home/demanding state to affect the return of the juvenile.... Allegations of abuse or neglect do not alleviate a state's responsibility to return a juvenile within the time frames in accordance with the rules.[16]

         Jessica argues that "[a]lthough not explicit, the ICJ's current language indicates that an inquiry into best interests is required" by the holding state. She argues that the ICJ allows the superior court to appoint a GAL whose "role in any case is to investigate and inform the court of the child's best interest." She argues that the GAL's role, read in conjunction with the holding state's requirement to conduct a hearing on proof of entitlement, "indicate[s] that a [holding state] court may take into consideration the juvenile's best interest."

         But as the State notes, "[a]ppointment of a [GAL] is not mandatory." ICJ Rule 6-103(6) provides that the holding state "may elect to appoint counsel or a [GAL]." (Emphasis added.) Based on this specific wording, not only is a GAL not required, the GAL's role in protecting a juvenile's best interests would be the same as counsel's; representation, by counsel or GAL if the court elects to appoint either, is limited to contesting whether proof of entitlement has been established.[17]

         Further, the ICJ accounts for the holding state's concerns about the juvenile's best interests, mandating that "[w]hen a holding state has reason to suspect abuse or neglect by a person in the home/demanding state, the holding state's ICJ Office shall notify the home/demanding state's ICJ Office of the suspected abuse or neglect."[18] After the holding state reports its suspicions, the "home/demanding state's ICJ Office shall work with the appropriate authority and/or court of competent jurisdiction in the home/demanding state to affect the return of the juvenile" to the legal guardian.[19] The ICJ mandates that "[allegations of abuse or neglect do not alleviate a state's responsibility to return a juvenile within the time frames in accordance with the rules."[20]The holding state thus must alert the home state when there are suspicions of abuse or neglect, but the home state is the proper forum to address those concerns.

         Finally, under the expressio unius canon of statutory construction, the ICJ's requirement that the home state consider a juvenile's best interests, without also providing that the holding state consider the same, implies that the holding state should not also conduct the inquiry.[21] The juvenile's best interests are not overlooked; the home state expressly must find, albeit in a standardized form, that "said juvenile's continued absence from legal custody and control is detrimental to the best interest of said juvenile and the public."[22]

         Based on this plain language, we find unpersuasive Jessica's argument that "the ICJ's current language indicates that an inquiry into best interests is required" by the holding state and that "a trial court must consider a non-delinquent juvenile's best interests prior to ordering the juvenile's requisition."

         2. Legislative history also indicates that the holding state is not authorized to consider a juvenile runaway's best interests.

         Jessica argues that ICJ changes indicate the holding state must consider a juvenile runaway's best interests. She contends that "[b]efore the Alaska legislature restructured [its version of the ICJ] in 2009, the statute included language providing for a court to consider a child's best interest" and that no legislative history exists indicating "that the Alaska legislature intended to prohibit Alaska courts from considering a child's best interest as part of their considerations under the ICJ."

         Although Jessica is correct that prior ICJ language explicitly mandated considering a juvenile's best interests, that mandate has always been directed to the home state in ordering a requisition, not to the holding state complying with a requisition. Alaska initially adopted the ICJ in I960;[23] a revised version was adopted in 2009.[24] According to legislative staff, the new version "replace[d] the old [ICJ] which was created in 1955The new [ICJ] ensures that all states will have identical language in their statutes which would help with compliance issues."[25] To ensure uniformity among ...


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