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In re Doe Children

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 3, 2016

In the Matter of the DOE CHILDREN, Children Under the Age of Eighteen Years.
v.
JANE DOE II, Respondent-Appellant. JOHN DOE I and JANE DOE I, Petitioners-Respondents,

         2016 Opinion No. 125

         Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Payette County. Hon. Brian D. Lee, Magistrate Judge.

         The order of the magistrate court is affirmed.

          Timothy Shane Darrington, Weiser, for appellants.

          Law Office of John Alegria, Boise, for respondent. John Alegria argued.

          BURDICK, Justice.

         Jane Doe (Mother) brings this expedited appeal from the Payette County Magistrate Court, which terminated her parental rights to her two children, M.S. and I.P. On appeal, Mother contends the magistrate erred by concluding she (1) abandoned M.S. and I.P. by failing to maintain a normal parental relationship, and (2) neglected M.S. and I.P. by failing to provide proper parental care. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case concerns Mother's parental rights to her two children, M.S. and I.P. Jane Doe I and John Doe I (Respondents) are the paternal great-grandparents of M.S. and I.P. Respondents started caring for M.S. and I.P. in late 2010. At that time, Respondents witnessed Mother unable to hold steady employment and a permanent residence, which forced Mother to "leav[e] [M.S. and I.P.] with people all the time." Additionally, Father (Respondents' grandson) had recently moved out-of-state and largely severed contact with M.S. and I.P. Respondents became concerned about the well-being of M.S and I.P. Consequently, Respondents began hosting M.S. and I.P at their home, offered to let Mother move in with them, and regularly gave Mother money to buy groceries.

         For reasons unclear, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) took M.S. and I.P. from Mother in January 2011 and placed M.S. and I.P. with Respondents, who live in Payette. Respondents were awarded guardianship in April 2011 and have since cared fulltime for M.S. and I.P. Mother was awarded supervised visitation in 2012, but after missing approximately 14 visits, Mother's supervised visitation rights were terminated in 2014. Respondents observed the visits Mother did attend and concluded Mother "is a good playmate, but as far as taking care of their needs, their wants, she just don't [sic] seem to have the capacity to do so."

         Since Respondents were awarded guardianship in April 2011, Mother has been minimally involved with parenting M.S. and I.P. Specifically, Mother has failed to (1) provide financial support to M.S. and I.P.; (2) help Respondents "cover the cost of keeping [M.S. and I.P.]"; and (3) "[c]over expenses of any kind." Mother's passive role is partly explained by the fact that, from April 2015 to October 2015, she served time in jail for aggravated assault. But even since her release from jail in October 2015, Mother has had only minimal contact with M.S. and I.P. From October 2015 to April 2016, Mother made approximately five phone calls and five visits to M.S. and I.P. Apparently, Mother has no driving privileges and is thus limited in her ability to travel from the Boise/Nampa[1] area to visit M.S. and I.P. in Payette.

         In November 2014, Respondents filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights to M.S. and I.P and for adoption. Respondents amended the petition in January 2015, seeking to also terminate Father's parental rights. Father accepted service, but he never appeared. The magistrate held a bench trial on the issue of terminating parental rights, leaving the adoption issue for another day. Mother did not personally appear at trial, but appeared through counsel.[2]At trial, Respondent Jane Doe I, the only witness, testified to the above facts. The magistrate concluded Mother and Father had both abandoned and neglected M.S. and I.P. The magistrate further concluded terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights was in the best interests of M.S. and I.P. Thereafter, the magistrate entered an order terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights. Mother timely appeals.

         II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

         1. Does clear and convincing evidence establish abandonment?

         2. Does clear and convincing evidence establish neglect?

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under "Idaho Code section 16-2005(1), a court may terminate parental rights if it finds that doing so is in the best interests of the child and that at least one of five grounds for termination is satisfied." In re Doe (2014-23), 157 Idaho 920, 923, 342 P.3d 632, 635 (2015). "The grounds for terminating a parent-child relationship must be proved by clear and convincing evidence." In re Doe (2013-15), 156 Idaho 103, 105-06, 320 P.3d 1262, 1264-65 (2014); see also I.C. § 16-2009. "Clear and convincing evidence is evidence that indicates the thing to be proved is highly probable or reasonably certain." In re Doe (2014-17), 157 Idaho 694, 699, 339 P.3d 755, 760 (2014). "This Court must 'conduct an independent review of the magistrate court record, but must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the magistrate court's judgment, as the magistrate court has the opportunity to observe witnesses' demeanor, to assess their credibility, to detect prejudice or motive and to judge the character of the parties.' " In re Doe (2014-23), 157 Idaho at 923, 342 P.3d at 635 (quoting Doe v. Doe, 150 Idaho 46, 49, 244 P.3d 190, 193 (2010)).

         IV. ...


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