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In re D.R.C.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

September 17, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF: D.R.C.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Robin Ransom

          OPINION

          ANGELA T. QUIGLESS, J.

         Juvenile D.R.C. appeals the juvenile court's judgment committing him to the Division of Youth Services after he violated terms of his intensive court supervision. He seeks a remand for a new dispositional hearing. During the pendency of this appeal, however, D.R.C. turned eighteen years old. The Division of Youth Services discharged D.R.C. from its custody and supervision, and the juvenile court did not regain jurisdiction over him. This case is now moot. No exception to the mootness doctrine applies, allowing us to exercise our discretion to consider the merits of the appeal. We thus dismiss the appeal.

         Factual Background

         When D.R.C. was sixteen years old, the juvenile court found that he had committed the delinquent acts of open display of a firearm and resisting arrest. D.R.C. admitted that he committed the offenses. The juvenile court placed D.R.C. on intensive official court supervision and committed him to the custody of his mother, subject to certain terms and conditions. In placing D.R.C. on court supervision, the juvenile court explained the rules and expectations of supervision to D.R.C., and D.R.C. told the court that he understood those rules and expectations. The juvenile court also expressly informed D.R.C., numerous times, that if he violated any term or condition of his supervision, the court would commit him to the Division of Youth Services. D.R.C. understood this as well.

         Four months later, the Juvenile Officer moved to modify the juvenile court's disposition order, alleging that D.R.C. had violated five conditions of his court supervision.[1] The juvenile court found that D.R.C. had indeed violated the court's order and committed him to the care, custody, and control of the Division of Youth Services.

         D.R.C. now appeals, asking that we vacate his disposition and remand the case for a new dispositional hearing before a different juvenile commissioner. He contends that in making the decision to commit him to the Division of Youth Services, the juvenile commissioner impermissibly considered the fact that he requested an adjudication hearing rather than just admitting the allegations made against him in the motion to modify.[2] D.R.C. does not challenge the finding that he violated the terms of supervision, nor does he challenge the initial adjudication of delinquency.

         After he filed his appeal in this Court, D.R.C. turned eighteen, and the Division of Youth Services discharged him, in accordance with Section 219.026 RSMo.[3] The Juvenile Officer has filed a motion to dismiss this appeal as moot because D.R.C. has aged out of the juvenile-justice system.[4]

         Discussion

         "A threshold question in any appellate review of a controversy is the mootness of the controversy." State ex rel. Reed v. Reardon, 41 S.W.3d 470, 473 (Mo. banc 2001); In Interest of S.B.A., 530 S.W.3d 615. 619 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). It is well-settled in Missouri that courts do not determine moot cases. Kinsky v. Steiger, 109 S.W.3d 194, 195 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003). Mootness implicates the justiciability of a case. Reardon, 41 S.W.3d at 473. "A question is justiciable only where the judgment will declare a fixed right and accomplish a useful purpose." Kinsky, 109 S.W.3d at 195. "When an event occurs that makes a court's decision unnecessary or makes granting effectual relief by the court impossible, the case is moot and generally should be dismissed." Reardon, 41 S.W.3d at 473 (internal quotation omitted); Kinsky, 109 S.W.3d at 195. "If no relief can be granted … because the situation has so changed that the relief sought cannot be granted, the court will not go through the empty formality of determining whether or not the relief asked for … could have been granted but for changed conditions." In Interest of R.L.P., 536 S.W.2d 41, 43 (Mo. App. 1976). "Even a case vital at inception of the appeal may be mooted by an intervening event which so alters the position of the parties that any judgment rendered merely becomes a hypothetical opinion." Reardon, 41 S.W.3d at 473; R.L.P., 536 S.W.2d at 44 (dismissing appeal as moot where juvenile sought release from custody of Division of Youth Services either via new hearing or outright discharge, and division terminated its custody and supervision of the juvenile during pendency of appeal; court reasoned that it could not grant effective relief because juvenile had received all the relief to which he was entitled).

         The controversy in this case is moot. D.R.C. seeks remand to the juvenile court for a new dispositional hearing. But the jurisdiction - meaning the authority and supervision - of the juvenile court over D.R.C. has ended.[5] The juvenile courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may exercise only such powers as are conferred by statute. In re A ___ N ___, 500 S.W.2d 284, 287 (Mo. App. 1973). Jurisdiction of the juvenile court is set out in Section 211.031 and Section 211.041. The juvenile court here acquired jurisdiction over D.R.C. under Section 211.031.1(3), which provides that the juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction in proceedings involving any person who is alleged to have violated a state law prior to attaining the age of seventeen years. Section 211.031.1(3).

         The juvenile court was divested of that jurisdiction, however, when the court committed D.R.C. to the Division of Youth Services. Not only did the juvenile court expressly note in its commitment order that it was not retaining jurisdiction, but the court lost jurisdiction by operation of Section 211.041. That section provides that when the juvenile court has acquired jurisdiction over a juvenile in situations such as this, the court may retain that jurisdiction until the juvenile reaches the age of twenty-one, "except in cases where [the child] is committed to and received by the division of youth services…." Section 211.041. Once a juvenile is committed to, and received by, the Division of Youth Services, the juvenile court loses jurisdiction and such jurisdiction lodges exclusively with the division. K.H. v. State, 403 S.W.3d 720, 723 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013). Thus, when D.R.C. was committed to and received by the Division of Youth Services, jurisdiction over him lodged exclusively with the division.

         The juvenile court may regain jurisdiction from the Division of Youth Services in certain select circumstances, but none exist here. The juvenile court may request that jurisdiction over a juvenile committed to and received by the Division of Youth Services be returned to the court. Section 211.041. But nothing in the record shows that the juvenile court made such a request here. Similarly, the juvenile court may regain jurisdiction upon request by the Division of Youth Services. The division may apply to the juvenile court for relief from its custody where a child is in need of care or treatment which the division is not equipped to provide. Section 219.081; see also, State v. Tate, 637 S.W.2d 67, 71-72 (Mo. App. E.D. 1982).[6] But the division made no such request here. The juvenile court may also acquire jurisdiction anew as a result of new jurisdictional facts that arise after commitment. Durant v. State, 523 S.W.2d 837 (Mo. App. 1975)(holding juvenile court could exercise newly-acquired jurisdiction over juvenile, committed on basis of felonious assault, but then returned to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to face murder charge after assault victim died). No such facts are alleged to have arisen in this case. Thus, the juvenile court in this case was divested of its jurisdiction over D.R.C., and it never regained that jurisdiction, nor acquired jurisdiction anew.

         Further, D.R.C. turned eighteen during the pendency of this appeal and has completed his time at the Division of Youth Services. As a general rule, the Division of Youth Services may only maintain custody of a juvenile until the juvenile's eighteenth birth date. Section 219.021.1.[7] The division could have, but did not petition the juvenile court to extend the division's custody of ...


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