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In re Doe

March 30, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF JANE DOE, A MINOR CHLD.
IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WELFARE, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JANE DOE I, RESPONDENT.



Appeal from the Magistrate Division of the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Robert Caldwell, Magistrate.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Melanson, Judge

2010 Opinion No. 21

SUBSTITUTE OPINION

THE COURT'S PRIOR OPINION DATED MARCH 26, 2010 IS HEREBY WITHDRAWN

Order terminating parental rights, affirmed.

Jane Doe I appeals from the magistrate's order terminating her parental rights to her daughter J.D. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

Doe has a history of substance abuse dating back several years and resulting in numerous periods of incarceration. A petition to remove J.D. from Doe's custody was filed on the basis that Doe twice tested positive for amphetamines during her pregnancy with J.D., neglected J.D.'s medical needs by failing to follow through with pediatric appointments, was homeless and living out of her car, and was arrested for possession of methamphetamine with the intent to deliver when J.D. was seven weeks old. The magistrate granted temporary legal custody to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare on the basis of an unstable home environment. A case plan was subsequently approved by the court which set forth reasonable efforts for reunification or, alternatively, the termination of parental rights. Among other things, the case plan required Doe to complete inpatient treatment, participate in random drug testing, refrain from associating with drug users and places of drug use, attend community-based recovery groups, obtain a mental health assessment and comply with its recommendations, complete a parenting class for infants and toddlers, adhere to the requirements of all court orders, and acquire stable housing and employment.

Doe continued to use methamphetamine after the case plan was ordered. On one occasion, Doe arrived at the department offices while under the influence of methamphetamine for what she believed was a visit with J.D. Twice Doe became pregnant by known drug users. One pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, and the second pregnancy resulted in the birth of a son. Doe did not obtain employment and had not held a job for several years. She lived with a friend without paying rent. She was also frequently late to visitation appointments with J.D. or missed them altogether.

At a review hearing, the magistrate approved a permanency plan for termination of parental rights without the need for further reunification efforts including visitation. Subsequently, the department filed a petition to terminate Doe's parental rights.*fn1 A two-day trial was held on the department's petition. After the trial, the magistrate entered an order terminating Doe's parental rights. The magistrate held: (1) Doe had neglected J.D. as defined by I.C. § 16-1602(25)*fn2 ; (2) Doe had neglected J.D. for failing to comply with the case plan and reunification had not occurred within the prescribed time standard; and (3) Doe was unable to discharge parental responsibilities for a prolonged period which was injurious to the health, morals, or well-being of J.D. Doe appeals.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In an action to terminate parental rights, due process requires this Court to determine if the magistrate's decision was supported by substantial and competent evidence. State v. Doe, 143 Idaho 343, 345, 144 P.3d 597, 599 (2006). Substantial and competent evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id., 143 Idaho at 345-46, 144 P.3d at 599-600 This Court will indulge all reasonable inferences in support of the trial court's judgment when reviewing an order that parental rights be terminated. Doe v. Doe, 148 Idaho 243, 246-47, 220 P.3d 1062, 1064-65 (2009). We conduct an independent review of the record that was before the magistrate. Doe, 143 Idaho at 346, 144 P.3d at 600.

III. ANALYSIS

A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a relationship with his or her child. Doe v. State, 137 Idaho 758, 760, 53 P.3d 341, 343 (2002). See also Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246, 255 (1978). This interest is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. State v. Doe, 144 Idaho 839, 842, 172 P.3d 1114, 1117 (2007). "Implicit in [the Termination of Parent and Child Relationship Act] is the philosophy that wherever possible family life should be strengthened and preserved . . . ." I.C. § 16-2001(2). Therefore, the requisites of due process must be met when the department intervenes to terminate the parent-child relationship. State v. Doe, 143 Idaho 383, 386, 146 P.3d 649, 652 (2006). Due process requires that the department prove grounds for terminating a parent-child relationship by clear and convincing evidence. Id. Idaho Code Section 16-2005 permits the department to petition the court for termination of the parent-child relationship when it is in the child's best interest and any one of the following five factors exist: (a) abandonment; (b) neglect or abuse; (c) lack of a biological relationship between the child and a presumptive parent; (d) the parent is unable to discharge parental responsibilities for a prolonged period which will be injurious to the health, morals, or well-being of the child; or (e) the parent is incarcerated and will remain incarcerated for a substantial period of time. Each statutory ground is an independent basis for termination. Doe, 144 Idaho at 842, 172 P.3d at 1117.

In this case, the magistrate concluded, among other things, that Doe had neglected J.D. for failing to comply with the case plan and that reunification between J.D. and Doe had not occurred. Idaho Code Section 16-2002(3) defines "neglect" as any conduct included in I.C. § 16-1602(25), as well situations where the "parent(s) has failed to comply with the court's orders in a child protective act case or the case plan, and reunification of the child with his or her parent(s) has not occurred within the time standards set forth in section 16-1629(9)." The time standard established by I.C. § 16-1629(9) is defined as when "a child is placed in the custody of the department and was also placed in out of the home care for a period not less than fifteen (15) out of the last twenty-two (22) months from the date the child entered shelter care."

In support of its conclusion that Doe had neglected J.D., the magistrate found that Doe failed to appear for numerous drug tests as required by her case plan and tested positive on several other occasions. Doe continued to associate with known drug users and failed to complete substance abuse treatment. Furthermore, Doe failed to complete a mental health assessment and a parenting class until after the magistrate had approved a permanency plan which included termination of parental rights. She also failed to obtain a stable source of income and adequate housing. Finally, the magistrate found that the department had made reasonable efforts to reunite Doe and J.D., but that the child had failed to bond with her mother. J.D. had been in foster care for over twenty months and had bonded with her foster parents.

During the two-day trial on the state's motion to terminate Doe's parental rights, fifteen witnesses testified. We need not look much further than Doe's own testimony to find substantial and competent evidence supporting the magistrate's conclusions. First, concerning her employment history and living arrangements, Doe testified:

[STATE]: Okay. And let's -- let us go back to employment. Can you tell us, in the last five years, beginning five years back, which would be 2002, give us your list of actual paid employment above the table, where you've received W-2's and checks?

[DOE]: I'd have to say um, probably about five years ago . . . is the last time I was employed.

[STATE]: And you have not had outside paid aboveboard employment since that time?

[DOE]: No.

[STATE]: So, you're living now -- you gave us the address . . . . Who owns that residence?

[DOE]: [R.J.].

[STATE]: Okay. And how do you know [R.J.]?

[DOE]: He's a family friend. I consider him an uncle or -- he's like an uncle or a father to me. He's um, been in my life since I was a baby. And he has helped uh, raise me my entire life.

. . . . [STATE]: Do you pay rent?

[DOE]: No, I don't.

[STATE]: Do you pay utilities?

[DOE]: No, no, I don't. Not at this time.

[STATE]: Do you buy or contribute to the food source.

[DOE]: I do.

[STATE]: How do you ...


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