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
THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION AND SHALL NOT
BE CITED AS AUTHORITY
2013 Unpublished Opinion No. 377
Decree terminating parental rights, affirmed.
Jane Doe (Mother) appeals from the magistrate's decree terminating her parental rights to her children, arguing the magistrate erred by prematurely finding termination was in the best interests of the children. We affirm.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (Department) filed a Child Protective Act (CPA) case involving Mother'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 Mother and the children's father, 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 and January 2012, none of which resulted in reunification of the parents with the children. Finally, in February 2012, the Department moved to terminate the parental rights of both Mother and the children's father. The magistrate conducted the termination hearing in August and, in September, entered a decree terminating the parental rights of both parents. Mother timely appeals.
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 generally understood to be evidence indicating that the thing to be proved is highly probable or reasonably certain. In re Doe, 143 Idaho 188, 191, 141 P.3d 1057, 1060 (2006). Further, the trial court's decision must be supported by objectively supportable grounds. In re Doe, 143 Idaho at 346, 144 P.3d at 600.
A. Grounds for Termination
A court may terminate a person's parental rights if it finds a statutory ground exists for termination and termination is in the best interests of the child. I.C. § 16-2005; Doe v. Roe, 133 Idaho 805, 810, 992 P.2d 1205, 1210 (1999). A court may terminate the parental relationship where it finds the parent has abused or neglected the child. I.C. § 16-2005(b). Neglect is defined as a situation in which the child lacks parental care necessary for his health, morals and well-being, I.C. § 16-1602(25), or where 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)," I.C. § 16-2002(3)(b). See also Dep't of Health & Welfare v. Doe, 145 Idaho 662, 663-64, 182 P.3d 1196, 1197-98 (2008). The time standard set forth in section 16-1629(9) creates a presumption that the Department shall initiate proceedings to terminate parental rights if the child is placed out of the home for fifteen of the last twenty-two months; it does not, however, create a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child to terminate parental rights. Dep't of ...