Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. Roger B. Harris, Magistrate Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Jones, Justice.
Boise, November 2011 Term
The order of the magistrate court is affirmed.
John Doe (Father) and Jane Doe (Mother) appeal from an order terminating their parental rights. The two appellants have three children together, and Mother has an additional child with another man. The magistrate terminated the parental rights of both parents as to all children, holding that both Father and Mother neglected the children and that termination is in the children's best interest. We affirm the magistrate court.
Father and Mother have three biological children together: G.H., D.H., and L.H. Mother also has another child, J.B., with a different man, who is not a party to this appeal. On October 28, 2009, Mother was arrested for possession of methamphetamine. The arresting officer declared all four children in imminent danger and took them into protective custody. The children have been in State custody ever since.
In June 2010, the State petitioned for termination of Mother's and Father's parental rights. The State's petition contended that both Mother and Father neglected the children--Mother, because she failed to complete the scheduled child protective case plan; Father, because he is currently incarcerated and unable to provide for the children. In the subsequent termination hearing, the parties stipulated that Mother and Father had been involved in numerous child protective proceedings--at least three, including the one beginning in October 2009. Mother further stipulated "that she had put forth very little, if any, effort to comply with the December 2009 case plan prior to the time the State filed its petition to terminate her parental rights in this matter." During the two-day hearing on the petition for termination, the magistrate court heard testimony regarding Mother from fifteen witnesses, including several social workers and counselors, a psychologist, one of the children's foster parents, and Mother herself.
Although Father's briefing does little to explain why, Father appeared through counsel in the proceedings below but failed to make any argument or present any evidence in support of his parental rights. It appears that in both prior child protection cases, Father failed to complete the case plans assigned to him, apparently making no significant progress in either case. During the present case, Father was serving a sentence in the state penitentiary for domestic battery, had been imprisoned for some time, and is not eligible for parole until October 2013.*fn1 Although there is some evidence in the record of a bond between Father and his children, Father has not participated in a case plan in the present case.
In its memorandum decision, the court weighed the trial evidence and ultimately determined that Father and Mother neglected their children and that termination of their parental rights was in the children's best interest. Both parents timely appealed. We must now determine whether there is substantial, competent evidence to support the magistrate judge's decision to terminate Mother's and Father's parental rights, and whether, as Mother argues, the State is estopped from seeking to terminate her rights.
This Court recently reiterated the standard of review in parental rights termination cases:
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.
Idaho Dep't of Health & Welfare v. Doe, __ Idaho __ , 260 P.3d 1169, 1171-72 (quoting Idaho Dep't Health & Welfare v. Doe II, 150 ...