Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division
IN THE INTEREST OF: S.G.F., A.D.F., D.N.H., F.H. and S.M.H., Minors,
R.N.B., Respondent-Appellant. SCOTT COUNTY JUVENILE OFFICE, Petitioner-Respondent,
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF SCOTT COUNTY Honorable Samuel R.
W. SHEFFIELD, C.J
("Mother") appeals from the trial court's order
assuming jurisdiction over her five minor children, S.G.F.,
A.D.F., D.N.H., F.H., and S.M.H., Jr. (collectively,
"the children"). Before reaching the merits of
these appeals, this Court must address the issue of whether
the appeals have become moot because the trial court entered
orders terminating its jurisdiction over the children. We
determine the appeals have become moot and therefore dismiss
and Procedural Background
has five children. S.H. is the father of the three youngest
children, S.M.H., Jr., D.N.H., and F.H. The father of the two
older children, S.G.F and A.D.F., is J.F., who currently
lives in Colorado.
children were taken into protective custody in August 2015
based on allegations that S.H. had physically abused them. On
August 25, 2015, the Juvenile Officer for the 33rd Circuit,
Phillip Warren ("Mr. Warren"), filed petitions
under Section 211.031.1(1) involving each of the children. On
September 17, 2015, the trial court held a joint adjudication
and disposition hearing regarding the petitions. Thereafter,
the trial court entered five judgments and orders of
disposition. In those orders, the trial court found the
children had been abused, made the children wards of the
court, and placed the children in the custody of the Missouri
Children's Division with a case goal of reunification.
Mother filed a timely notice of appeal in each case.
January 2017, many months after Mother filed her notices of
appeal, the trial court entered five orders terminating its
jurisdiction over the children. The trial court terminated
its jurisdiction over S.G.F. and A.D.F. because both children
were residing in Colorado with their father and there was a
pending child custody proceeding in Colorado. The trial court
found these two children were no longer in need of the care
and protection of the court. The trial court terminated
jurisdiction over the three youngest children because Mother
and S.H. had "completed the terms and conditions of
their written service agreements and case plan so that the
child[ren are] no longer in need of the care and protection
which this Court may provide."
Warren thereafter filed a motion to dismiss the appeals.
case must be dismissed because the appeals are moot. The
appeals were rendered moot when the trial court entered its
orders terminating its jurisdiction over the children.
appellate court is not permitted to review moot claims of
error." In Interest of Z.M.W., 498 S.W.3d 828,
831 (Mo. App. S.D. 2016) (quoting In Interest of
J.T.S., 462 S.W.3d 475, 478 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015)).
"A case is moot when the circumstances that surround it
change sufficiently to cause a legal controversy to cease,
and a decision by the judiciary would be insignificant in
providing effective relief." In Interest of
T.J., 495 S.W.3d 793, 796 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016). "An
appeal in an abuse or neglect case under § 211.031, RSMo
is moot where the circuit court has terminated the underlying
proceeding and released the affected children from
the trial court terminated its jurisdiction over the children
in January 2017. The three youngest children were returned to
Mother's care, and the two older children are living with
their father in Colorado. Consequently, an opinion by this
Court in the abuse and neglect case would have no practical
effect. The issues in this case are moot, and the appeals
must be dismissed. See id.
true there are exceptions to the mootness doctrine. See,
e.g., J.T.S., 462 S.W.3d at 478. However,
Mother abandoned her reliance on those exceptions during oral
argument, so we need not consider the application of those
exceptions to the facts of the present case.
Mother's only argument against dismissal is that the
trial court had no jurisdiction to enter the orders
terminating its jurisdiction because the trial court failed
to comply with the provisions of the Interstate Compact on
the Placement of Children, § 210.620. Since the trial
court lacked jurisdiction, Mother's argument continues,
those orders are void, and there is still a live, on-going
child protective case pending in the trial court. This
argument overlooks the decision of the Supreme Court of
Missouri in J.C.W. ex rel. Webb v. Wyciskalla, 275
S.W.3d 249 (Mo. banc 2009). In that case, the Supreme Court
of Missouri limited the reach of such jurisdictional
arguments by clarifying the concept of subject matter
jurisdiction, stating that "[w]hen a statute speaks in
jurisdictional terms or can be read in such terms, it is
proper to read it as merely setting statutory limits or
remedies or elements of claims for relief that courts may
grant." Id. at 255. Violations of such limits,
however, do not deprive the trial court of the power ...