No. 2020-0110

Dec. 9, 2020

Granted petition for writ of prohibition.

 

  • The Court considered DCYF’s petition for a writ of prohibition to prevent the circuit court from joining DCYF as a party in a guardianship case and from ordering the agency to provide services for the benefit of private litigants.

 

The Court accepted New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (“DCYF”)’s petition for original jurisdiction with a request for a writ of prohibition. No party in the underlying guardianship matter had opposed DCYF’s petition, so the Court invited the University of New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce School of Law Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership & Public Service to file a brief as amicus curiae in support of the circuit court’s orders.

In the underlying guardianship case, a three-year-old’s father alleged that his child’s guardians were willfully interfering with the father’s right to unsupervised parenting time and other provisions of prior court orders. The circuit court issued an order in that case that found the father needed assistance in learning to care for his child independently and requiring DCYF to provide a parent aide to supervise the visitations and to otherwise provide the father support to expand his parenting time. DCYF filed a motion for reconsideration and argued that RSA 170-G:4 did not authorize the circuit court to order DCYF to provide services in a minor guardianship proceeding under RSA 463 when the minor is not at risk of placement with the Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) due to abuse or neglect. The circuit court denied the motion, construing the original order as a referral to DCYF, allowing it to have input into the case and concluding that the child may be at risk of placement with DHHS. The order on the motion for reconsideration also required DCYF to provide the services originally ordered and to provide the court a report in six weeks. DCYF then filed the request for a writ of prohibition with the Supreme Court.

The Court found that nothing in RSA 170-G:4 or RSA 463 authorizes the circuit court to join DCYF as a party to a private guardianship case or to order that the agency must provide services to private litigants. DCYF is only subject to the circuit court’s personal jurisdiction pursuant to RSA 463 when the agency accepts appointment as a guardian of a minor, which had not occurred in this case.  Further, the Court found RSA 170-G:4 only recognizes that the circuit court can refer cases of suspected child abuse or neglect to DCYF, but it does not grant the circuit court power to order the agency to adopt a particular course of action. The Court resolved the case on statutory interpretation grounds, so it declined to address DCYF’s constitutional arguments.

 

Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Laura E. B. Lombardi, senior assistant attorney general), for New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families. John F. Driscoll, Portsmouth, for the guardians. John Greabe (on the brief and orally) and Risa Evans (on the brief), University of New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce School of Law, Concord, for amicus curiae Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership & Public Service.