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In re Doe Children

Court of Appeals of Idaho

January 13, 2017

In the Matter of the DOE CHILDREN, Children Under Eighteen Years of Age.
JANE DOE (2016-43), Respondent-Appellant. IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH and WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,

         2017 Opinion No. 3

         Appeal from the Magistrate Division of the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Nez Perce County. Hon. Kent J. Merica, Magistrate.

         Amended judgment terminating parental rights, remanded for further proceedings.

          Knowlton & Miles, PLLC; Mackenzie Jo Welch, Lewiston, for appellant.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Marcy J. Spilker, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

          Before GRATTON, Chief Judge; GUTIERREZ, Judge; and MELANSON, Judge

          PER CURIAM

         A trial for terminating the parental rights of Jane Doe and her husband, John Doe, as to three children commenced on May 10, 2016. On the following day, when the trial was not concluded, the magistrate scheduled its continuation for July 2016. The trial then continued from July 6 until July 8. At the close of trial, parties were instructed to file their closing arguments by August 12.

         In a hearing held October 3, 2016, the magistrate expressed that he had experienced software failure resulting in the permanent loss of a significant amount of his written work. The magistrate then indicated he would instead enter his findings of fact and conclusions of law on the record. He stated: "This will constitute the only record of the same. The court will not reduce the following to writing, and I'm doing that in the--for the sake of expediency for the parties." The magistrate proceeded to verbally pronounce detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law from the bench.

         On the same day, the magistrate entered a written judgment terminating the parent-child relationship between Jane and John and the children. In this written judgment, aside from stating that "it is in [the children's] best interests for the parental rights . . . to be terminated, " the judgment did not include any specific findings of fact or conclusions of law.

         Two days after entry of this written judgment, the magistrate entered an order titled, "Amended Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order." This order first called attention to and corrected a prior misstatement regarding the applicable statutory provision of neglect. The order also specifically incorporated by reference the magistrate's verbal findings of fact and conclusions of law pronounced on October 3. Finally, the order addressed the magistrate's failure to orally discuss and conclude one of the grounds for termination that was argued by the Department of Health and Welfare. The order included a thorough written analysis on the alleged grounds for termination, ultimately concluding the Department did not meet its burden of proof. The order concluded by stating that Jane and John's parental rights were being terminated pursuant to Counts II and III of the "Second Amended Petition for Termination, " but not pursuant to Count I. The magistrate also entered a corresponding amended judgment reiterating its conclusion that termination was in the children's best interests and that the parent-child relationships were terminated.

         Although the magistrate treated the termination petition of both parents as a consolidated case, Jane now timely and separately appeals the magistrate's judgment terminating Jane's parental rights. Her appeal challenges the magistrate's decision on procedural grounds as well as on the merits. John Doe appeals in a separate case.

         Among other issues, Jane argues the magistrate violated her right to due process by terminating her parental rights without complying with statutory procedural requirements. Specifically, she argues that the magistrate violated the statutory mandate in I.C. § 16-2010(1) by not issuing a written order containing the findings of fact and conclusions of law. The statute at issue, Idaho Code § 16-2010(1), states, in relevant part, that "every order of the court terminating the parent and child relationship . . . shall be in writing and shall recite the findings upon which such order is based, including findings pertaining to the court's jurisdiction." I.C. § 16-2010(1) (emphasis added).

         The interpretation of a statute is an issue of law over which we exercise free review. Aguilar v. Coonrod, 151 Idaho 642, 649-50, 262 P.3d 671, 678-79 (2011). Such interpretation must begin with the literal words of the statute; those words must be given their plain, usual, and ordinary meaning; and the statute must be construed as a whole. Verska v. Saint Alphonsus Reg'l Med. Ctr., 151 Idaho 889, 893, 265 P.3d 502, 506 (2011). It is well established that where statutory language is unambiguous, legislative history and other extrinsic evidence should not be consulted for the purpose of altering the clearly expressed intent of the ...

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