Appeal from the Magistrate Division of the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Cathleen MacGregor-Irby, Magistrate.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gratton, Chief Judge
2012 Unpublished Opinion No. 526
THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED
OPINION AND SHALL NOT
BE CITED AS AUTHORITY
Order terminating parental rights, affirmed.
John Doe appeals from the final judgment terminating his parental rights to his children.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A child protection case was initiated on April 13, 2010, when Doe's children, Z.W. and A.W., were declared in imminent danger and removed from the custody of their parents pursuant to a petition under the Child Protective Act. Three days earlier, law enforcement officers responded to a store where A.W. and Z.W.'s mother was arrested for burglary while the children were with her. Doe had been involved in an altercation with the mother in March, and was incarcerated on charges of attempted strangulation at the time of her arrest. Further, a no contact order had been put in place, restricting Doe to letter contact with his children through the Department until subsequent modification of the order or its expiration in July 2020. Thus, Doe was unavailable to care for the children. On May 6, 2010, Doe signed a stipulation to jurisdiction and agreed to have custody of the children vest with the Department. The mother also stipulated that both children were neglected and should be placed in the Department's custody. Based upon the stipulations, the magistrate found that Z.W. and A.W. came within the purview of the Child Protective Act and that legal custody of the children should be vested in the Department.
A case plan was developed and on June 1, 2010, the plan was approved by the magistrate. The various tasks of the plan included: (1) completion of Department-approved substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health assessments and follow through with recommendations from those assessments; (2) completion of a Department-approved parenting curriculum and demonstration of skills learned during Doe's visits with his children; (3) maintaining a legitimate source of income that will enable Doe to provide for himself and his family; and (4) maintaining housing, free of all health and safety hazards, for himself and his family. The magistrate held a six-month review on October 5, 2010.
On March 30, 2011, the Department filed a petition to terminate father's parental rights to Z.W. and A.W. On April 12, 2011, the magistrate entered an order for permanency, approving termination of parental rights as the permanent plan. Also in April, Doe was released from prison, and placed on probation for ten years. The terms of his probation modified the previously entered no contact order, providing that Doe have no contact with any minor children "except as arranged under the supervision of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare." Doe was therefore allowed to have supervised visits with Z.W. and A.W in the months that followed. A trial on the termination petition was scheduled for August 9, 2011, but that date was later vacated after the magistrate found the Department had not made reasonable efforts for reunification. On September 1, 2011, the magistrate entered a written order finding that the Department had made reasonable efforts to reunify the father with the children since July 27, 2011, and a new trial date was set. The father filed an answer to the petition on October 31, 2011. An amended petition to terminate was filed on November 8, 2011. Trial on the amended petition was held over the course of three days on November 16, 2011; December 14, 2011; and January 12, 2012.
On March 6, 2012, the magistrate issued a memorandum decision and order finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that both Doe and the mother had neglected Z.W. and A.W., that father was unable to discharge his parental responsibilities, and that it was in the children's best interests to terminate the parent-child relationship between both parents and Z.W. and A.W.*fn1 A final judgment was entered the same day. Doe timely appeals.
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 parentchild 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.
Because a fundamental liberty interest is at stake, the United States Supreme Court has determined that a court may terminate a parent-child relationship only if that decision is supported by "clear and convincing evidence." Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 746 (1982). See also I.C. § 16-2009; Doe, 146 Idaho at 761-62, 203 P.3d at 691-92; Doe, 143 Idaho at 386, 146 P.3d at 652. On appeal from a decision terminating parental rights, this Court examines whether the decision is supported by substantial and competent evidence, which means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Doe v. Doe, 148 Idaho 243, 245-46, 220 P.3d 1062, 1064-65 (2009). The appellate court will indulge all reasonable inferences in support of the trial court's judgment when reviewing an order that parental rights be terminated. Id. The Idaho Supreme Court has also said, however, that the substantial evidence test requires a greater quantum of evidence in cases where the trial court finding must be supported by clear and convincing evidence, than in cases where a mere preponderance is required. Doe v. Doe, 143 Idaho 343, 346, 144 P.3d 597, 600 (2006). Clear and convincing evidence ...