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In re Termination of Parental Rights of Doe

May 7, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS OF JANE DOE.
IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WELFARE, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
JANE DOE, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Magistrate Division of the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Carolyn M. Minder, Magistrate.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lansing, Chief Judge

2010 Opinion No. 32

Judgment terminating parental rights, affirmed.

Jane Doe appeals from the magistrate court‟s decision terminating her parental rights due to neglect of her child. Doe argues that the magistrate‟s decision was not supported by substantial and competent evidence. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Doe gave birth to a son, J.M., on August 11, 2008. About two months later, on October 29, 2008, Doe was arrested and charged with felony possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver. J.M. was in the car with Doe, where numerous drugs were found, when Doe was arrested. J.M. was left in the care of Doe‟s relatives until Doe was released on bond in early December 2008, at which time she resumed custody of J.M. At the request of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the Department), a detective in the Ada County Sheriff‟s Office met with Doe on December 11, 2008, to determine the circumstances of J.M.‟s care. At that meeting, the detective declared J.M. in imminent danger because Doe had no permanent residence and was staying with a known methamphetamine trafficker, appeared to be continuing her lifestyle of methamphetamine use, and did not have a vehicle to transport J.M. in an emergency. J.M. was thereupon removed from Doe‟s custody and placed in foster care.

On December 31, 2008, the magistrate court entered an order giving the Department temporary custody of J.M., effective retroactively to December 11, 2008. On January 7, 2009, Doe stipulated to a finding of neglect and to placing J.M. in the legal custody of the Department for an indeterminate period. A case plan setting out tasks for Doe to complete in order to be reunified with J.M. was approved by the court on February 4, 2009.

On February 18, 2009, Doe was convicted and placed on probation for the October 29, 2008, drug charge. However, Doe was incarcerated on March 12, March 17 to March 30, and May 11 to June 9, 2009, for probation violations--including repeatedly testing positive for methamphetamine, not obtaining employment, and not obtaining stable housing. These violations ultimately led to the revocation of Doe‟s probation in June, and she was incarcerated on a "rider."*fn1 On May 11, the Department filed a "six-month" review of the progress toward reunification of J.M. and Doe. In this review, the Department recommended a "concurrent plan of termination and adoption as the primary plan with reunification secondary to termination." The recommended plan called for J.M. to be "placed in another permanent setting by December 2009 or returned to [Doe]." The Department then filed a petition to terminate Doe‟s parental rights on August 26, 2009. Following a trial, the magistrate court ordered termination on the grounds that Doe had neglected J.M. and that termination was in J.M.‟s best interest.

Doe appeals, arguing that the magistrate court lacked substantial and competent evidence to support its conclusion that Doe‟s parental rights should be terminated because the court "ignored critical facts." Specifically, Doe contends that because three witnesses testified at her termination trial that she may have the ability to parent once she has demonstrated a twelve to eighteen-month period of sobriety, because she has a strong bond with J.M., because she visited J.M., because she has worked hard to complete her case plan to make reunification a possibility, and because she has done well in her rider program prompted by her desire to reunify with J.M., the magistrate court erred in ordering termination of her parental rights.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Timeliness of Appeal

We must first address an argument by the Department that Doe‟s appeal should be dismissed because it was not timely filed. This appeal was taken directly from the magistrate division to the Idaho Supreme Court, bypassing an intermediate appeal to the district court.*fn2

This expedited process for appeals from orders terminating parental rights is authorized by Idaho Appellate Rule 11.1. Appellate Rule 12.2 specifies that such an expedited appeal must be initiated by filing a notice of appeal with the clerk of the district court "within fourteen (14) days from the date of issuance of the order." The Department argues that Doe‟s appeal did not comply with this time limit.

Following the trial in this matter the magistrate issued a November 18, 2009, "Order Terminating Parental Rights of [Doe]" in which the court made extensive and detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law ultimately determining that J.M. had been neglected and that termination of Doe‟s parental rights was in J.M.‟s best interest. This decision said, "The parental rights of [Doe] as to [J.M.] are terminated," but also directed the Department to "prepare an order consistent with this opinion." The court subsequently issued a "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree as to the Mother" on December 1, 2009, ordering termination of the parent-child relationship between Doe and J.M. Doe filed a notice of appeal on December 11, 2009. The Department asserts that Doe‟s appeal was not timely because the fourteen-day period for Doe‟s appeal began to run from the November 18, 2009, decision, not the subsequent "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Decree as to Mother" filed on December 1, 2009.

A civil judgment, order, or decree generally must be final to be appealable as of right.

I.A.R. 11(a)(1); Camp v. East Fork Ditch Co., Ltd., 137 Idaho 850, 866-67, 55 P.3d 304, 320-21 (2002). A final judgment is an order or judgment that ends the lawsuit, adjudicates the subject matter of the controversy, and represents a final determination of the rights of the parties. Camp, 137 Idaho at 867, 55 P.3d at 321; Watson v. Watson, 144 Idaho 214, 217, 159 P.3d 851, 854 (2007). In order to avoid confusion about what written ruling may constitute a court‟s final judgment, Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 58(a) requires that "[e]very judgment shall be set forth on a separate document." Thus, a judgment differs from the findings of fact and conclusions of law that must be rendered by a trial court at the conclusion of a court trial pursuant to I.R.C.P. 52(a). In addressing the distinction between an order for summary judgment and a final "appealable judgment," our Supreme Court recently said, "The judgment must be a separate document that does not contain the trial court‟s legal reasoning or analysis," and "merely typing "It is so ordered‟ at the end of the memorandum decision does not constitute a judgment." Spokane Structures, Inc. v. Equitable Inv., LLC, ___ Idaho ___, 226 P.3d 1263 (Jan. 28, 2010). The Court added, "Obviously, the judgment ...


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