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In re Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

September 12, 2016

JANE DOE I, Respondent-Appellant, STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent, and GUARDIAN AD LITEM / CASA, Intervenor-Respondent. IN THE MATTER OF JANE DOE and JOHN DOE, Minor Children. STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,
JOHN DOE I, Respondent-Appellant, and GUARDIAN AD LITEM / CASA, Intervenor-Respondent.

         2016 Opinion No. 95

         Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Latah County. Hon. Stephen L. Calhoun, Magistrate Judge.

         Magistrate court judgment terminating parental rights, affirmed.

          McCormick Law Office, and Kovis Law Office, Moscow, for appellants.

          Attorneys Northwest, Inc., Coeur d'Alene, for respondents.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

          BURDICK, Justice


         Jane Doe I (Mother) and John Doe I (Father) each appeal the Latah County magistrate court's judgment terminating their parental rights as to their two minor children, L.W. and J.W. Mother argues the magistrate court erred in several respects, including that it wrongfully terminated her parental rights because the State's petition for termination was not filed in accordance with Idaho law and because the children had not been in Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) custody for a mandatory period of fifteen months before the petition was filed. Mother also argues that the magistrate erred in finding that the children were neglected; that it was in the Mother's best interests to have her parental rights terminated; and that Mother was unable to discharge her parental responsibilities. Father incorporates Mother's arguments on appeal into his own appeal, and additionally argues that the court erred in determining that Father was unable to discharge his parental responsibilities. We affirm.


         The events giving rise to this case began on November 3, 2013, when police responded to a medical emergency at Mother and Father's trailer house. At that time, the trailer house was occupied by Mother; Father; their daughter L.W., who was one year and ten months old at the time; and a vulnerable adult who was deceased. It was later determined that the vulnerable adult's death was the result of neglect and malnutrition while in the care of Mother and Father.[1]Officer David Hathaway, who responded to the medical emergency, testified that the vulnerable adult was emaciated; had matted dirt in his hair, around his neck, and in the creases of his skin; his nails were overgrown, filthy and appeared to be severely infected with fungus; he had multiple bed sores; and his back appeared to be one large continuous bed sore.

         As to the condition of the house, the officer testified that there was an overwhelming smell from the garbage that was strewn throughout the house; the carpet and bedding were filthy; there was aged food and plastic containers containing urine surrounding the bed; and there were empty food and drink containers on the floor next to the bed, along with an ashtray overrun with cigarette butts. The vulnerable adult's room had an overwhelming smell of ammonia. As a result of the poor condition of the home, the Moscow Police Department referred the case to IDHW, which investigated the issue. Mother assured IDHW that she would clean the house. The house was timely cleaned and the IDHW closed the investigation at that time.

         Nearly nine months later, on July 17, 2014, Officer Hathaway returned to the home to serve arrest warrants on Mother and Father relating to the neglect of the vulnerable adult found in November of 2013. At that time, officers learned that Mother and Father had a second child, a two week old boy named J.W. Thus, there were two minor children residing in the home with Mother and Father: L.W., who was two-and-a-half years old, and J.W., an infant. In his probable cause affidavit, the officer noted the following condition of the home:

The trailer was found in similar conditions as it was in November 2013. . . . Inside there was old food on the floors of every room. There were stains on the floors, tables and couches throughout the house. All of the windows were covered by blankets and/or sheets making it very dark inside. The back bedroom, which was [L.W.'s] bedroom, had toys and clothes covering the majority of the floor. Also in [L.W.'s] room, was a large amount of feces smeared on nearly everything. There was feces on the floor, door, doorknob, walls, clothes on the floor, toys on the floor, and on [L.W.'s] bed and blankets. It appeared the feces was the result of more than one bowel movement, based on the quantity, and it appeared it had been there a long time longer than something that had recently occurred (It was dried, hardened, and no longer smelled strongly like fresh feces).

         The officer further observed that L.W. and her clothes were dirty and that she was grunting and screaming and had no verbal or communication skills. Officers removed two dogs from the home because they were emaciated and starving. Based on the officer's observations, he was concerned for the children and their well-being. After the parents' arrest, Father's brother cared for the children. However, they became too much for him to handle. The brother testified that L.W. was wild, non-verbal, out of control, would scream, and could not sit at the table and eat. As to J.W., the brother testified that he was stiff and would not make eye contact. Based on his experiences, the brother opined that the children had not been nurtured and were untrained and undisciplined.

         Four days later, on July 21, 2014, the children were declared in imminent danger and were removed from Mother's care and placed in foster care. The foster parent testified that during visitations, Mother and Father would allow L.W. to run around without correction and were unable to set safe and healthy boundaries. Additionally, the weekly visits took a toll on the children-they would be exhausted, J.W. had diarrhea and L.W. would have fits, some lasting as long as two hours.

         The State filed a petition under the Child Protective Act on July 22, 2014, requesting the court to determine that the children were within the jurisdiction of the Act and that they should continue in shelter care. On July 23, 2014, the magistrate court entered a shelter care order, wherein, based upon the stipulation of the parties, the court held that the children were within the jurisdiction of the Child Protective Act due to a lack of a stable home environment. The court set an adjudicatory hearing for the State's petition for August 20, 2014, and ruled that it was in the best interests of the children to vest legal custody in IDHW pending that adjudicatory hearing.

         On August 14, 2014, an adjudicatory/disposition report of investigation was filed with the court. In that report, an IDHW case worker recommended that the children remain in the custody of IDHW. On August 20, 2014, following the adjudicatory hearing, the court entered an order granting legal custody to IDHW based upon the stipulation of the parties and upon the investigation report that was prepared by the IDHW case worker. The court ordered IDHW to prepare a case plan and scheduled a hearing for October 1, 2014, to review the case plan.

         Later, the foster parent for the children testified that J.W. would not make eye contact and that she had to work hard at behavior issues with J.W. The foster parent testified that J.W. did not like being held and would stiffen up when held. Additionally, the back of J.W.'s head was flat, which indicated that he had spent most of the time lying on his back and not being held. As to L.W., the foster parent described her as being feral with no language skills, and that L.W. would throw tantrums and fits as a result of her frustration from not being able to communicate her needs or express her feelings. Additionally, L.W. would pick food out of the trash and eat it, she could not sit at the table to eat, and she would eat like an animal, picking food apart, lifting it up to her face to smell it and look at the foster parent first before nibbling on it. L.W. had no potty training, and would smear feces all over everything. L.W. would not play with her peers at daycare. Finally, L.W. would scream and panic when doors were shut, even if there were people she knew in the room. L.W. was significantly delayed in the development of her speech and social interactions.

         The children were then placed with a new foster family on August 21, 2014. The new foster parent testified, consistent with the first foster parent's testimony, that J.W. was very stiff when held, did not make eye contact, and that his head was flat and square. The foster parent additionally testified that J.W. "had a weird desire to be in his car seat all the time, " and that he did not like to be held. As to L.W., the new foster parent testified that she could not talk at all, and that she screamed a lot and would throw herself on the ground, push other kids, and scratch. She would pick through her food and smell everything before she would eat it and continued to eat out of the garbage can, and would also try to eat out of the sink. She was not potty trained and continued to smear feces everywhere. The new foster parent also testified that after visitations with Mother and Father, L.W. would be very upset, would scream more, often had a fever, and refused to say words that she already knew. The new foster parent testified that with proper attention, it only took a week to potty train L.W., and that L.W. began receiving special services to aid in her development, during which L.W. exhibited significant progression.

         A case plan consisting of a service plan and an alternative care plan was filed on September 22, 2014, which required the parents to complete several tasks in an effort to reunify the parents with the children. The tasks included, among others: (1) maintaining a safe and stable home for the children that was free from safety hazards, including feces, moldy dishes and food, and small items on the floor; (2) cooperating with announced and unannounced home visits by IDHW; (3) attending parenting classes; and (4) completing psychological evaluations. The magistrate court approved the case plan at a hearing on October 15, 2014.

         The IDHW social worker assigned to the case made several efforts to assist Mother and Father in completing the case plan. The social worker set up various appointments for Mother and Father; made them calendars every month with important dates, appointments, and other reminders; and scheduled parenting classes for them. Both Mother and Father failed to follow through on several appointments, in particular, the mental health appointments and the parenting classes. In fact, the social worker testified that although there was no set number of parenting classes Mother and Father were required to take under the case plan, they each only attended a handful of sessions. Mother could have attended classes once a week for the eleven months the children were in IDHW's custody prior to her incarceration. However, she only attended seven classes out of the fifty-two available. As to Father, he could have attended classes once a week for eight months prior to his incarceration, but only attended three.

         On March 16, 2015, Father entered a plea to the felony charge of Principal to Neglect of a Vulnerable Adult. Father was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison with a minimum period of confinement for three years. Father is still in prison with his first possible parole date in March of 2018, which will be two years from the date of his parental rights being terminated and four years since the children were removed from his care. Shortly thereafter, on April 13, 2015, Mother pled guilty to the felony charge of Principal to Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult and was sentenced to eight years in prison. However, after completing her rider program, Mother's sentence was suspended and she was placed on probation for a period of six years. Prior to the incarceration of Mother and Father, they had failed to complete the case plan. The social worker assigned to their case testified that they had both had ample time and opportunity to complete the case plan prior to their incarceration.

         On July 10, 2015, IDHW submitted a plan for permanency for the children to the court. On July 15, 2015, the court held a permanency hearing to review the State's recommendations for permanency. Mother and Father did not attend the hearing due to their incarceration, but they were represented by legal counsel. On August 6, 2015, the court entered an order approving a permanent plan for termination of parental rights and adoption and also ordered that reunification efforts between the children and parents cease.

         On August 4, 2015, the State filed a petition to terminate parental rights on the grounds that Mother and Father "have failed to comply with the court's orders in a child protective case or the case plan, and reunification of the children with their parents has not occurred as set forth in Chapter 20, Title 16, Idaho Code." The State claimed that termination was in the children's best interests. Although represented by counsel, Mother and Father did not file an answer to the petition denying the State's allegations.

         From February 22 to February 23, 2016, the court held a two-day trial on the termination petition. At the time of the trial, the children had been in IDHW custody for nineteen months. Following the trial, the magistrate court issued its findings on April 27, 2016, wherein it terminated Mother's and Father's parental rights to L.W. and J.W. The magistrate court found that clear and convincing evidence from trial proved that (1) Mother and Father neglected L.W. and J.W.; (2) Mother and Father were unable to discharge their parental responsibilities; (3) Father would be incarcerated for a substantial period of time; and (4) it was in the children's best interest to terminate the parent/child relationship. The magistrate court entered a judgment on April 27, 2016 to ...

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