Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Re Anthony T. (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 22, 2012)

I think we'd all agree that placing a kid in a foster home that would require the kid to be in a car ten hours a week in order to visit his natural parent(s) -- which is part of the unification plan here -- doesn't satisfy a statutory requirement that dictates that the child be placed in "reasonable proximity" to his parents.  It's not in the best interests of the child, and the two locations -- Northern San Diego County and Riverside -- are insufficiently close to satisfy the statute.

(I leave for another day whether it's really in the child's best interests to have anything to do with his mother.  She's not married to the kid's father, fights with him constantly, clearly has substance abuse problems, and the seven other children of the mother and father are all in the custody of others at this point.  Oh, yeah, and the mother constantly cancels appointments to visit the kid because she's "sick".)

Justice Huffman holds as much, reversing the trial court.

The only part of his opinion that might be a bit deficient is his linguistic analysis.  Justice Huffman argues that "reasonable proximity" essentially means "darn close" by relying on Webster's definition of "proximate" as "very near."  But "proximate" and "proximity" are two different words, and don't necessarily mean the same thing despite the fact that one's an adjective of the other.  One can use the word "proximity" to mean something other than "really close"; for example, we're in "proximity' to Alpha Centauri even though we're light-years apart.  Suffix words don't necessarily mean what the base word means; for example, "primity" means "the quality of being first," which is different from the meaning of its base word "primitive".  One can be "primitive" without being the most primitive.  They're both relative terms, but mean different things.  (For a more on-point example, we constantly talk about "proximate" cause even though some things that we legally call "proximate" hardly satisfy the requirement of being "very near" the resulting injury.)

The case is not really about the word "proximity" (or, even less, "proximate") and instead, in my view, revolves entirely around the word "reasonable."  It's not reasonable, in context, to require hours and hours of travel.  Justice Huffman cogently explains why.  That's the word -- the only word -- that's truly at issue.  That the statute uses the term "reasonable proximity" is no different than if it used the phrase "reasonable distance."  "Proximity" in this context is just a synonym for "distance."  It has no other independent meaning.  What matters is if the distance (and time it takes to traverse it) is, in this context, reasonable.  And it's not.