Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Cassia County. Hon. Mick Hodges, Magistrate.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gutierrez, Chief Judge
2013 Unpublished Opinion No. 378
THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED
OPINION AND SHALL NOT
BE CITED AS AUTHORITY
John Doe (Father) appeals from the magistrate's decree terminating his parental rights to his children, arguing the magistrate erred by prematurely finding the following: that termination was in the best interests of the children; that Father had not put himself in a position to parent his children; and that Father was not disabled or in need of adaptive equipment or supportive services. We affirm.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (Department) filed a Child Protective Act (CPA) case involving Father's two minor children in November 2010. The Department initially sought protective supervision, but later filed for protective custody of the children. After a shelter care hearing, the magistrate vested legal custody of the children with the Department in January 2011. The parties prepared a family case plan, pertaining to both Father and the children's mother, and filed it with the magistrate in February. Based on the parties' stipulation at the six-month review hearing in May 2011, the magistrate ordered the children to remain in protective custody. The magistrate held review hearings in June, July, August, and November 2011, none of which resulted in reunification of the parents with the children. The November review also included a special hearing that pertained to whether Father or the mother was disabled and needed adaptive services or other accommodations in order to meet the requirements in the case plan. In its disposition following the hearing, the magistrate found neither parent had disabilities that prevented Father or the mother from complying with the case plan or, at least at a minimum, neither required accommodations in order to complete the case plan.
The magistrate conducted an additional review hearing in January 2012. Finally, in February 2012, the Department moved to terminate the parental rights of both Father and the children's mother. The magistrate conducted the termination hearing in August and, in September, entered a decree terminating the parental rights of both parents. Father timely appeals and asserts the magistrate court erred in three ways: by determining it was in the best interests of the children to terminate Father's parental rights; by failing to find that Father put himself in a position to parent the children; and by failing to find that Father is disabled and needed adaptive equipment or supportive services in order to complete the case plan.
The United States Supreme Court has held that a parent's interest in maintaining a relationship with his or her child is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753 (1982); Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246, 254-55 (1978). See also In re Doe, 146 Idaho 759, 761, 203 P.3d 689, 691 (2009). Concordantly, the Idaho Legislature has, in the CPA, directed that "the state of Idaho shall, to the fullest extent possible, seek to preserve, protect, enhance and reunite the family relationship." Idaho Code § 16-1601. Likewise, the Termination of Parent and Child Relationship Act states, "Implicit in this chapter is the philosophy that wherever possible family life should be strengthened and preserved . . . ." I.C. § 16-2001(2).
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, 455 U.S. at 769. See also I.C. § 16-2009; Doe, 146 Idaho at 761-62, 203 P.3d at 691-92; State v. Doe, 143 Idaho 383, 386, 146 P.3d 649, 652 (2006). 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, 220 P.3d 1062, 1064 (2009). The appellate court will indulge all reasonable inferences in support of the trial court's judgment when reviewing an order terminating parental rights. Id. at 245-46, 220 P.3d at 1064-65. The Idaho Supreme Court has also stated, 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. In re Doe, 143 Idaho 343, 346, 144 P.3d 597, 600 (2006). Clear and convincing evidence is ...