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California Court Rejects Teen Mom's Habeas Corpus Estoppel Theory

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 08, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A California Appellate Court has rejected a San Diego teen mother's appeal to overturn a lower court's decision which finally put an end to her parental rights.

The case is the latest in a series of unfortunate developments that first started years ago when Kemper gave birth at 16 years old. Only days after her child's birth, the baby was taken away and she was deemed unfit as a mother.

Kemper Just Wanted Her Daughter Back

The case had its roots in 2008 when Johnneisha Kemper's infant daughter was first taken away following a dispute between Kemper and her mother. Kemper called the San Diego Police for assistance, erroneously believing that police would help her retrieve her daughter. Instead, the episode led to a legal morass. Rather than getting her daughter back, the young girl was adopted by another family.

Parental Rights Terminated

Kemper appeared in court, rejecting allegations by the dependency petition that she had abandoned her daughter. She lost. When she appealed that ruling, the court affirmed the earlier decision to terminate Kemper's custody of her daughter and found that she "could not safely parent" her daughter. The court rejected her allegations that ineffective assistance of her appointed counsel was instrumental in her losing her daughter and stated that her "parental rights were terminated as a result of her own actions, and not as a result of her attorney's conduct."

Kemper then brought a legal malpractice claim against said appointed juvenile dependency attorneys, their supervisor, and the City of San Diego. In that suit, she alleged materially the same allegations. The Defendants moved for summary judgment based on the theory of collateral estoppel.

Kemper's bad luck continued. Valiantly, her attorney appealed for the court to create an exception of the collateral estoppel doctrine, making an analogy between habeas corpus and the current facts, arguing that the doctrine ought to apply in juvenile dependency cases. In its opinion, the court of appeal affirmed the decision made by earlier courts: "Kemper is barred by the collateral estoppel doctrine from re-litigating the issue of whether her juvenile dependency attorneys caused the termination of her parental rights."

She has since settled with San Diego in the amount of $225,000 but, in Kemper's words "that won't get my daughter back."

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