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In re Doe Children

Court of Appeals of Idaho

February 6, 2017

In the Matter of the DOE CHILDREN, Children Under the Age of 18 Years.
JANE DOE (2016-35), Respondent-Appellant. IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,

         2017 Opinion No. 10

         Appeal from the Magistrate Division of the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bannock County. Hon. Bryan K. Murray, Magistrate.

         Judgment terminating parental rights, affirmed.

          Randall D. Schulthies, Bannock County Public Defender; Sara C. Archibald, Deputy Public Defender, Pocatello, for appellant.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Justin R. Seamons, Deputy Attorney General, Pocatello, for respondent.

          MELANSON, Judge

         Jane Doe appeals from a judgment terminating her parental rights. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.


         Doe has a significant history of using numerous intoxicants, including alcohol, marijuana, and methamphetamine. On May 9, 2015, Doe appeared at her neighbor's house intoxicated and left her two youngest children[1] with the neighbor indicating Doe could not care for the children's needs. On May 11, police took Doe into protective custody when she appeared to be disoriented and possibly hallucinating. Doe disclosed that she had recently used methamphetamine. The Department of Health and Welfare declared Doe's two children in imminent danger and they were placed in foster care. A petition under the Child Protective Act was filed on May 12. The children were placed into the legal custody of the Department and a guardian ad litem for the children was appointed. A case plan was developed to address Doe's substance abuse, employment, mental health, and parenting in order for Doe to acquire the necessary skills to care for and reunite her with her children. On May 25, 2016, the Department filed a petition for termination of Doe's parental rights. Two days later, police arrested and charged Doe with various crimes after an intoxicated Doe unlawfully entered a stranger's home. The criminal charges were later dismissed. Doe filed a motion in limine to exclude testimony from the resident concerning circumstances related to the dismissed criminal charges, which the magistrate denied. During the termination hearing, the Department presented testimony and exhibits recounting Doe's failures to comply with the terms of her case plan. Following the hearing, the magistrate made findings of fact and conclusions of law, finding clear and convincing evidence that Doe had neglected and abandoned the children and that termination was in their best interests. An amended judgment terminating doe's parental rights was entered on September 14, 2016. Doe appeals.


         A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a relationship with his or her child. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000); Doe v. State, 137 Idaho 758, 760, 53 P.3d 341, 343 (2002). This interest is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. State v. Doe, 144 Idaho 839, 842, 172 P.3d 1114, 1117 (2007). Implicit in the Termination of Parent and Child Relationship Act is the philosophy that, wherever possible, family life should be strengthened and preserved. I.C. § 16-2001(2). Therefore, the requisites of due process must be met when terminating the parent-child relationship. State v. Doe, 143 Idaho 383, 386, 146 P.3d 649, 652 (2006). Due process requires that the grounds for terminating a parent-child relationship be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Id. 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 v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 769 (1982). See also I.C. § 16-2009; In re Doe, 146 Idaho 759, 761-62, 203 P.3d 689, 691-92 (2009); Doe, 143 Idaho at 386, 146 P.3d at 652.

         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, 245-46, 220 P.3d 1062, 1064-65 (2009). The appellate court will indulge all reasonable inferences in support of the trial court's judgment when reviewing an order that parental rights be terminated. Id. The Idaho Supreme Court has also said that the substantial evidence test requires a greater quantum of evidence in cases where the trial court's finding must be supported by clear and convincing evidence than in cases where a mere preponderance is required. Doe v. 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 magistrate's decision must be supported by objectively supportable grounds. Doe, 143 Idaho at 346, 144 P.3d at 600.

         Idaho Code Section 16-2005 permits a party to petition the court for termination of the parent-child relationship when it is in the child's best interests and any one of the following five factors exist: (a) abandonment; (b) neglect or abuse; (c) lack of a biological relationship between the child and a presumptive parent; (d) the parent is unable to discharge parental responsibilities for a prolonged period that will be injurious to the health, morals, or well-being of the child; or (e) the parent is incarcerated and will remain incarcerated for a substantial period of time. Each statutory ground is an independent basis for termination. Doe, 144 Idaho at 842, 172 P.3d at 1117.

         III. ...

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