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In re Brandon E.H.

December 5, 2002


Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 00JD119 Honorable Scott Drazewski, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice McCULLOUGH


The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) appeals from the order of the circuit court of McLean County directing DCFS to pay for psychological evaluations of delinquent minor Brandon E.H. (born March 4, 1986) and his mother by a non-DCFS-approved psychologist. The issues are whether (1) this action by the juvenile court was barred by sovereign immunity and (2) the juvenile court lacked statutory authority to direct reimbursement from DCFS. We affirm.

On November 27, 2000, the juvenile court found Brandon a delinquent minor based on his admission to an allegation of domestic battery. 720 ILCS 5/12-3.2(a)(2) (West 2000). Pending the sentencing hearing scheduled for December 22, 2000, the juvenile court directed the preparation and filing of a presentencing report and placed Brandon in the temporary custody of the detention center. At the conclusion of the November 27, 2000, hearing, the juvenile court ordered that respondent minor and his mother undergo psychological evaluations.

On December 19, 2000, Juvenile Court Services (JCS) filed a social investigation report that included psychological evaluations prepared by Alvin E. House, a licensed clinical psychologist. The social investigation report indicated that the minor was the subject of a juvenile proceeding in Woodford County (Woodford County case No. 96-JD-19) in which he had been placed in the guardianship of DCFS. On December 19, 2000, the juvenile court in Woodford County had changed the permanency goal for Brandon from remain home to independent. Following the December 22, 2000, sentencing hearing, Brandon was placed on 24 months' probation, with guardianship to remain with DCFS. On the State's motion, DCFS was added to this case as a party respondent, and DCFS was directed to reimburse McLean County $700 for the two psychological evaluations.

On January 19, 2001, DCFS filed a motion to vacate the December 22, 2000, order of reimbursement. On February 14, 2001, the juvenile court denied the motion. On April 6, 2001, at the direction of this court, DCFS's late notice of appeal was filed in the circuit court.

At the February 14, 2001, hearing, Sheri Olson, a social worker for Catholic Social Services (CSS), testified that she supervised Brandon's abuse and neglect case. CSS was contracted by DCFS to provide services for Brandon after he had been made a ward of the court in the Woodford County case. At the time Brandon was determined a delinquent in this proceeding, he was a ward of the court and under the guardianship of DCFS. Olson appeared at the delinquency hearing. DCFS was told to prepare a psychological evaluation following the November 27, 2000, hearing. The paperwork was filled out and an appointment was made in anticipation of DCFS approval. It was scheduled during January 2001 with Dr. Marty Traver, one of 24 psychologists in the central region approved by DCFS. Olson did not make any contractual arrangements or authorizations for House to perform the psychological examinations. House was not a psychologist approved by DCFS. Based on standard policy and procedure, Olson could not approve House performing psychological examinations.

DCFS has had a case with this family since 1986 and guardianship of Brandon since September 1998. By guardianship, DCFS takes all the responsibility to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of the child in its care. Olson understood that the judge wanted the psychological evaluations completed before the sentencing hearing in order to assist the judge in making a decision in this case. At the November 27, 2000, hearing, the sentencing hearing was scheduled for December 22, 2000. Olson made Traver's office aware of the time constraints, but January 2001 was the best Traver could do. Olson stated that DCFS normally pays for psychological evaluations of minors it has guardianship of if it is approved by DCFS and provided by a DCFS-approved provider. According to Olson, there is a standard fee DCFS pays providers it contracts with, and DCFS did not have a contract with House.

Rebecca Lawson, juvenile probation officer, testified concerning (1) her involvement in the case, (2) her conversation with Olson in which Olson indicated she would arrange for the psychological evaluations, and (3) Lawson's arranging appointments with House after finding out that the evaluations arranged by Olson would not be completed in time for the sentencing hearing.

We initially determine that DCFS has standing to appeal and that this court has appellate jurisdiction. See In re O.H., 329 Ill. App. 3d 254, 256-58, 768 N.E.2d 799, 801-02 (2002).

DCFS argues that this action by the juvenile court, ordering DCFS to pay for the services of House, was barred by sovereign immunity. This issue has already been addressed and rejected by the Supreme Court of Illinois. In In re Lawrence M., 172 Ill. 2d 523, 526-27, 670 N.E.2d 710, 712-13 (1996), DCFS argued that the juvenile court acted outside its authority in directing DCFS to pay for drug treatment services to parents of minors. The supreme court stated:

"A suit against state officials which seeks to compel them to perform their duty is not held to be a suit against the state even though the duty to be performed arises under a certain statute, and the payment of state funds may be compelled." Lawrence M., 172 Ill. 2d at 527, 670 N.E.2d at 713.

Therefore, as the court did in Lawrence M., we find the action by the juvenile court in this case was not barred by sovereign immunity.

DCFS also challenges the juvenile court's statutory authority to order it to pay House's fees. To the extent the analysis of this issue involves statutory construction, we consider the question de novo. Boaden v. Department of Law Enforcement, 171 Ill. 2d 230, 237, 664 N.E.2d 61, 65 (1996). However, the propriety of the juvenile court's order is otherwise ...

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