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In re Termination of the Parental Rights of Doe.

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 12, 2013

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF THE PARENTAL RIGHTS OF JOHN (2013-02) DOE.
v.
IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WELFARE and SUE WALCH, Guardian ad litem, Defendants-Respondents. JOHN DOE (2013-02), Plaintiff-Appellant,

2013 Opinion No. 83

Appeal from the Magistrate Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Carolyn Minder.

The judgment of the magistrate court is affirmed.

Alan E. Trimming, Ada County Public Defender, Boise, for Appellant.

Hon. Lawrence Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondents.

W. JONES, Justice

I. Nature of the Case

A biological father challenges a magistrate judge's order "nonestablishing" his parental rights. On appeal, he contends that he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing at which to prove that he was a "parent" as defined by I.C. § 16-2002(11).

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Doe is the biological father of a baby boy ("Son"). Doe was in prison when Son was born. Son's mother ("Mother") was living with another man ("Boyfriend"), and Son was given Boyfriend's surname. In April of 2011, Son was placed in the custody of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the "Department") after he suffered grievous injuries indicative of severe physical abuse. This triggered an ongoing proceeding under the Child Protective Act[1] ("CPA") in which Boyfriend was listed as the putative father. However, in July of 2011 Doe submitted to a paternity test, which showed a 99.99% probability that he is Son's biological father. Doe was then substituted as the putative father in the CPA proceeding. He received assistance from appointed counsel and was served with documents in the case.

Before the paternity test, Doe had no contact with Son. There is evidence in the record that Doe thereafter visited with Son, completed a parenting class, and maintained intermittent employment. However, there is also evidence that he failed to obtain a sufficient income to support a child, to secure housing suitable for a child, and to refrain from using methamphetamine. There is also evidence that his numerous probation violations often landed him in jail, which in turn prevented him from visiting Son.

In April of 2012, the Department submitted a Progress Report for Permanency Hearing in which it requested the termination of both Doe and Mother's parental rights. The magistrate denied the request on the grounds that Doe and Mother were "deserving of more time to demonstrate their ability to provide a safe, stable home for their child." However, in October of 2012, Mother voluntarily consented to the termination of her parental rights.

In November of 2012, the Department submitted a new petition, requesting for the first time an "Order of Non-Establishment of Parental Rights." The Department averred that Doe was "not the 'parent' of [Son] as defined in Idaho Code § 16-2002(11) as [he had] failed to assert any parental rights to [Son] either by statute or by timely establishing some relationship to [Son]." An extremely brief hearing was held on the Department's motion. Doe's appointed counsel apparently was under the impression that he would not be allowed to call witnesses or present other evidence in order to show that Doe was a parent as defined in I.C. § 16-2002(11). Doe's counsel represented to the magistrate that he had not advised Doe how to "proceed with the putative father registry or a paternity action, " and instead suggested to Doe that he "should seek independent Counsel and do that."

In January of 2013, the magistrate judge entered her Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Nonestablishment of Paternity. She held as a matter of law that Doe had "waived and surrendered any right in relation to [Son] and shall be barred from thereafter bringing or maintaining any action to establish his paternity of [Son]." The ...


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