Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. R. Barry Wood, Senior District Judge. Supreme Court Docket No. 38534 Supreme Court Docket No. 38536 Supreme Court Docket No. 38567
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Chief Justice
Trial court's findings of fact and order terminating parental rights, affirmed. Williams Law Office, Ctd., Twin Falls for appellant John (2011-03) Doe.
Jane Doe and John Doe appeal the trial court's February 3, 2011 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order (hereinafter "Feb. 3, 2011 Order") terminating Jane Doe's parental rights to her four children (T.S., S.S., A.H. and S.H.) and John Doe's parental rights to his two children (T.S. and S.S.) on the grounds of neglect and the best interest of the children. We affirm.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
S.S. and T.S. were born to Jane Doe and John Doe in 2003 and 2006 respectively. Jane Doe and John Doe lived together for a total of approximately eleven months. They never married. Eventually their relationship ended, and Jane Doe began a relationship with John Doe II. John Doe has two other children, who are not Jane Doe's children and were not involved in the termination proceedings at issue here. John Doe went to prison on June 21, 2007, for writing checks with insufficient funds. He topped out his sentence on May 6, 2010.
On August 14, 2008, Detective Mittlestadt from the Twin Falls Police Department visited the residence of Jane Doe and John Doe II in response to a referral from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the Department) concerning possible child abuse and marijuana sales. At the residence, marijuana was being smoked in the presence of S.S. and T.S. Jane Doe and John Doe II were arrested for injury to children and marijuana possession. S.S. and T.S. were declared to be in imminent danger and were taken into State custody.
Both on the day of their arrest and at the adjudicatory hearing held on August 21, 2008, Jane Doe and John Doe II stipulated to an unstable home environment, and S.S. and T.S. were placed in the legal custody of the Department. On May 28, 2009, S.S. and T.S. returned to the home of Jane Doe and John Doe II for an extended home visit. A.H. was born to Jane Doe and John Doe II in 2009. On October 16, 2009, when the Department discovered that the home was filthy, cluttered and smelled of urine, S.S. and T.S. were placed in foster care due to an unstable home environment, and A.H. was declared to be in imminent danger.
On May 20, 2010, the Department filed a petition to terminate the parental rights to S.S., T.S., and A.H. The petition alleged that Jane Doe, John Doe and John Doe II neglected the children, failed to address substance abuse issues and home sanitation problems, failed to maintain adequate income, failed to demonstrate that they could keep the children safe, and had been hostile and uncooperative to the Department's service providers. The petition also alleged that termination would be in the best interest of the children, because Jane Doe, John Doe and John Doe II can barely support themselves, and adoptive parents can provide a more financially and emotionally stable home environment for the children.
S.H. was born to Jane Doe and John Doe II in 2010. On June 16, 2010, S.H. was declared to be in imminent danger, and a Child Protective Act (CPA) petition was filed. On June 17, 2010, S.H. was found to come within the CPA's protection, but S.H. was ordered to be returned to Jane Doe and John Doe II on an extended home visit. However, on July 7, 2010, S.H. was removed from the home based upon unsanitary conditions. On July 29, 2010, the trial court entered an order adopting a renewed case plan involving all four children and the three parents. On July 30, 2010, the Department filed a petition to terminate Jane Doe and John Doe II's parental rights in S.H. on the same grounds that it petitioned to terminate their rights in the three older children. The two termination cases were consolidated.
On February 3, 2011, the trial court issued its decision terminating the parental rights of Jane Doe and John Doe II in all four children, and terminating John Doe's parental rights in S.S. and T.S. The trial court ruled that the State established by clear and convincing evidence that the children were individually and collectively neglected by their parents and that termination was in the children's best interests.
Jane Doe and John Doe appealed to this Court. John Doe II did not appeal.
We recently set forth the relevant standard of review in Idaho Department of Health & Welfare v. Doe:
Grounds for termination of parental rights must be shown by clear and convincing evidence because each parent has a fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a relationship with his or her child. Clear and convincing evidence is generally understood to be evidence indicating that the thing to be proved is highly probable or reasonably certain. On appeal, this Court will not disturb the magistrate court's decision to terminate parental rights if there is substantial, competent evidence in the record to support the decision. Substantial, competent evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. This Court is required to conduct an independent review of the magistrate court record, but must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the magistrate court's judgment because the magistrate court has the opportunity to observe witnesses' demeanor, to assess their credibility, to detect prejudice or motive and to judge the character of the parties.
150 Idaho 36, , 244 P.3d 180, 185 (2010) (quotations and citations omitted).
A court may grant an order terminating parental rights where it finds that (1) termination is in the best interests of the child and (2) one of the statutory conditions for termination exists. Idaho Code § 16-2005(1). Neglect is one of the statutory conditions for termination. Idaho Code § 16-2005(1)(b). The trial court found that each parent neglected his or her children and that termination was in each child's best interest.
Idaho Code § 16-2002(3) defines "neglected" as:
(a) Conduct as defined in section 16-1602(25), Idaho Code; or
(b) 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), Idaho Code.
Idaho Code § 16-1602(25)(a) provides that "neglected" means a child: "Who is without proper parental care and control, or subsistence, medical or other care or control necessary for his well-being because of the conduct or omission of his parents, guardian or other custodian or their neglect or refusal to provide them".
Idaho Code § 16-1602(25)(b) provides that "neglected" means a child: "Whose parents, guardian or other custodian are unable to discharge their responsibilities to and for the child and, as a result of such inability, the child lacks the ...