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In re Doe Children

Court of Appeals of Idaho

February 23, 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. 3S

         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.

         Judgment terminating parental rights, affirmed.

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

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


          GUTIERREZ, Judge

         Jane Doe appeals from the magistrate's judgment terminating Jane's parental rights to her three minor children. This Court first considered Jane's appeal on the grounds that the magistrate erred procedurally by failing to issue written findings of fact and conclusions of law. As we further elaborate in our decision below, we remanded the case to the magistrate for issuance of written findings. The case is before us again after the magistrate issued its written findings of fact and conclusions of law and a corresponding amended termination order. Thus, having cured the procedural defect, we now also consider the merits of the magistrate's decision to terminate Jane's parental rights. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         Jane Doe and her husband, John Doe, have an extensive history of drug abuse and have been involved in child protection proceedings in the past. In February 2015, the Department of Health and Welfare (Department) received reports indicating that neither Jane nor John were in compliance with the terms of their probations and that the three children in Jane and John's care were unsafe. These three children are the biological children of Jane, but only two are the biological children of John; the biological father of Jane's oldest child is unknown.

         On February 20, 2015, the Department filed a petition asking the magistrate to determine whether the children were within the jurisdiction of the Child Protection Act, alleging the children were neglected and lacking a stable home environment. Additionally, the petition asked the magistrate to remove the children from Jane and John's home and place the children into the temporary legal custody of the Department. The magistrate entered an order granting the Department's requests, and the children were immediately removed from Jane and John's care and placed in shelter care. The children remained in shelter care until an adjudicatory hearing was held, at which point the magistrate found it was in the children's best interests to remain in shelter care. The Department prepared a written case plan for both Jane and John, and the magistrate approved the proposed plan on April 29, 2015.

         In June 2015, Jane was arrested for various probation violations. The district court then sentenced Jane to serve out the remainder of her underlying sentence.[1] In August 2015, the magistrate held a permanency hearing on the child protection case, at which time the Department requested the approval of a modified case plan to pursue relative adoption rather than reunification. In its subsequent permanency plan order, the magistrate ordered the Department to file a petition to terminate parental rights within thirty days. The Department then filed a petition to terminate both Jane and John's parental rights to the children in September 2015, followed by an amended petition approximately two weeks later. The magistrate scheduled the termination trial for December 2015.

         For reasons unclear from the record, the parties stipulated to postponing the December trial until February 2016. Then, the parties again stipulated to postponing the February schedule as Jane was pregnant at the time and the trial would be too close to her due date. The magistrate rescheduled the termination trial for May 2016.

         In February 2016, Jane gave birth to a child fathered by John. The Department filed an amended petition under the Child Protection Act to add the new baby to the existing child protection order. The baby was placed in shelter care with the other three children. The magistrate then held the appropriate shelter care and adjudicatory hearings. Ultimately, in May 2016, after the magistrate approved the Department's proposed case plan regarding the baby, the parties stipulated to sever the baby's and the children's child protection proceedings. Jane and John's parental rights to the baby are not at issue in this appeal.

         Meanwhile, in March 2016, the Department filed a second amended petition for termination of the parent-child relationship between the three older children and both Jane and John. This amended petition alleged that both parents neglected the children and divided the grounds for termination into four separate counts.

Count I: The children are neglected as defined in [I.C. §§ 16-1602(31)(b)];[[2]16-2002(3)(a) and 16-2005(1)(b) because they lack proper support or parental care necessary for their health, morals, and well-being, to-wit: [John and Jane] have shown the inability to maintain safe and stable [sic] for their children. Neither parent is able to demonstrate the ability to safely parent their children when they are abusing substances, and it appears that they are still unable to maintain control of their addictions despite all the services they have been offered and that they have completed throughout the past five (5) years of Child Protection Involvement.
Count II: The children are neglected as defined in I.C. §§ 16-2002(3)(b) and 16-2005(1)(b). The parents have failed to comply with the Court's orders or the case plan in a Child Protective act case.
Count III: The parents have neglected the children. The children are neglected as they are without the proper parental care and control, or subsistence, education, medical or other care and control necessary for their well-being because of the conduct or omission of their parents, guardian, or other custodian or their neglect or refusal to provide them as follows: [Jane and John] have a significant substance abuse history. [Jane and John] have not engaged in any support services recommended by Department staff that has been identified to help them successfully establish a safe life to parent [the children].
Count IV: The parent, [Jane], is unable to discharge parental responsibilities and such ability will continue for a prolonged indeterminate period and will be injurious to the health, morals, or well-being of the children, to-wit: [Jane] has been sentenced to a prison term to the . . . Prison, and the Idaho ...

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