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In re M.C.

Supreme Court of Vermont

December 21, 2018

In re M.C., Juvenile

          On Appeal from Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Family Division Alison S. Arms, J.

          Matthew Valerio, Defender General, and Marshall Pahl, Appellate Defender, Montpelier, for Appellant.

          Thomas J. Donovan, Jr., Attorney General, Montpelier, and Jody A. Racht, Assistant Attorney General, Waterbury, for Appellee.

          PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson and Eaton, JJ., and Grearson, Supr. J., Specially Assigned

          EATON, J.

         ¶ 1. In this appeal, we construe 33 V.S.A. § 5926, which provides neglected or unmanageable children subject to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children the right to a hearing before being placed out-of-state. The trial court concluded that only juveniles whose parents' rights had not yet been terminated were entitled to a hearing under § 5926. Because M.C. did not fall within this group, the court denied his request for a hearing. M.C. appeals, arguing that this interpretation violates his state and federal constitutional rights, the remedy for which is to afford all children the right to a hearing under § 5926. The State agrees that M.C. is entitled to a hearing pursuant to § 5926.

         ¶ 2. We do not reach M.C.'s constitutional argument because we agree with the State that the plain language of § 5926 affords all neglected and unmanageable children the right to a hearing before being placed out of state. We therefore reverse the trial court's decision and remand for a hearing under § 5926. We also grant the State's unopposed request to preserve the status quo during the remand proceedings. Unless otherwise ordered, M.C. will remain in his current out-of-state placement pending the trial court's decision on remand.

         ¶ 3. The facts are undisputed. M.C. was taken into the custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) in 2014 when he was six years old. He was adjudicated as a child in need of care or supervision. In January 2018, M.C.'s parents voluntarily relinquished their parental rights in him. DCF has custody of M.C.

         ¶ 4. In February 2018, DCF sought to place M.C. in an out-of-state residential facility. M.C.'s attorney did not support the placement. A DCF caseworker subsequently moved for an emergency hearing on the proposed placement. M.C.'s attorney questioned the caseworker's authority to seek such relief; she requested a hearing under 33 V.S.A. § 5926.

         ¶ 5. Section 5926 is part of the Vermont-specific provisions relating to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. It provides:

The officers and agencies of this State having authority to place neglected or unmanageable children may place such a child in another state. However, unless parental rights have been judicially terminated any such child being placed in another state pursuant to this compact shall, upon request, be given a court hearing on notice to the parent or guardian with opportunity to be heard prior to his or her being sent to such other state for care and the court finds that:
(1)equivalent facilities for the child are not available in this State;
(2)care in the other state is in the best interest of the child and will not ...

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