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In re Doe Children

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 10, 2017

In the Interest of the DOE CHILDREN, Children Under the Age of Eighteen (18) Years.
v.
JANE DOE (2016-32), Respondent-Appellant, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent, and GUARDIAN AD LITEM, Intervenor-Respondent.

         2017 Opinion No. 27

         Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bonneville County. Hon. Michael B. Kennedy, Magistrate Judge.

         Magistrate court judgment terminating parental rights, affirmed.

          Bonneville County Public Defender, Idaho Falls, for appellant.

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

          Carey Perkins, LLP, Boise, for intervenor-respondent.

         ON THE BRIEFS

          BURDICK, Chief Justice.

         Jane Doe (Mother) appeals the Bonneville County magistrate court's termination of her parental rights to her two minor children, K.J.M. and K.M.M. (Children). The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights to Children on November 10, 2015. An eight-day trial was held, where over forty witnesses testified and one-hundred-eighty exhibits were admitted. The magistrate found termination proper on several bases and entered a judgment to that effect. On appeal, Mother asserts that the magistrate's judgment is not supported by sufficient evidence and that the magistrate committed several errors. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case concerns the termination of Mother's parental rights to her two minor children, K.J.M. (born August 2012) and K.M.M. (born August 2013).[1] IDHW became involved in this case in November 2012, when it learned Mother and her boyfriend, who was also K.J.M.'s father, were blowing marijuana smoke in K.R.C.'s and K.J.M.'s faces. IDHW visited Mother's home and noted it was "filthy with pills and drug paraphernalia scattered throughout the home[.]" Further investigation revealed that Mother's boyfriend was physically abusing Mother. Mother's boyfriend was arrested for felony strangulation of Mother. Apparently, Mother dropped the charges "due to him being the sole caretaker of the children and needing his help . . . ."

         In addition, Mother's boyfriend was physically abusing K.R.C. and K.J.M. Mother reported she had witnessed her boyfriend "shake 4 month old [K.J.M.] . . . and hit[] 1 year old [K.R.C.], leaving bruises on her legs and bottom." Even so, Mother routinely placed them in the care of her boyfriend while she went to work, not "fully comprehend[ing] the danger she [was] placing her children in . . . ." IDHW concluded Mother lacked "capacity to protect her children from harm" and became concerned about their safety. IDHW filed motions for appointment of a guardian ad litem and for protective supervision under the Child Protective Act, both of which were granted. IDHW maintained protective supervision until July 2014.

         A case plan was entered during protective supervision, requiring Mother to do several things, including: (1) complete parenting and home organization classes; (2) complete domestic violence safety classes; (3) provide a plan stating how she would ensure Children's safety; (4) ensure her home was clean; (5) clear her home's floor of small objects, due to Children's ages; (6) wash dishes and vacuum daily; (7) submit to random drug testing; and (8) acquire IDHW's approval before allowing others to visit or reside in her home. Nevertheless, IDHW observed "the dishes were not done, the floor needed to be vacuumed, food was smeared into [the] carpet, and there were clothes on the floor." Thus, IDHW concluded Mother "was either not wanting to change the way she lived or wasn't taking this seriously."

         During protective supervision, Mother's drug problem became evident. For instance, Mother was arrested in spring 2013 for failure to appear, and during the arrest, police found a urine-filled condom stashed in her underwear. That arrest occurred while Mother was traveling to a drug testing center, "indicating that Mother planned on falsifying her drug test." Then, in spring 2014, Mother tested positive for "Methamphetamine and Amphetamine." Mother testified she had used methamphetamine off-and-on during her pregnancies, further conceding she had used methamphetamine "during at least a portion of the pregnancy." By 2014, Mother was using methamphetamine "pretty regularly" on a daily basis. In a mental health assessment performed on November 30, 2015, Mother stated that she "rel[ied] on drugs to feel normal."

         Mother was incarcerated several times during protective supervision. She was arrested and incarcerated in spring 2013 for failure to appear. After failing a drug test in spring 2014, Mother was incarcerated until the week of June 23, 2014. Mother was again arrested and incarcerated on July 21, 2014, evidently for repeatedly violating a court order preventing non-approved persons from residing with her. IDHW concluded Children were at a high level of threat, due to Mother's incarcerations and "concerns of ongoing substance abuse and chronic neglect of children."

         IDHW made an unannounced visit to Mother's apartment on July 21, 2014. Mother was home, but asleep. K.J.M. was seen playing in the dirt with no clothes or shoes, supervised by a man who indicated he had recently been released from jail and was using methamphetamine. K.M.M. was seen in her play pen, with a diaper "that was unchanged and bulging and almost overflowing with feces." The IDHW "worker woke up [Mother] and told her that she needed to change [K.M.M.'s] diaper and that [Children] were being supervised by a man . . . [who] the worker never met. [Mother] then ran out from her bedroom looking for her children." Thereafter, IDHW concluded Mother was unable to meet the needs of Children and filed a motion for legal custody. The motion was granted, and Children have been in IDHW's legal custody since July 22, 2014.

         Another case plan was entered on August 11, 2014, requiring Mother to do several things, including: (1) stay sober; (2) find stable housing; (3) acquire IDHW's approval before allowing others to reside in her home; and (4) submit monthly budgets to IDHW. A similar case plan was entered on March 16, 2015. Mother failed to meet these requirements. As IDHW found in March 2015:

[Mother] has been discharged from Family Drug [C]ourt and treatment. She completed a Nelson's Truth Verification Testing and Investigation on February 7, 2015. Results indicated that she recently relapsed by smoking meth for a period of 3-4 days, having unapproved associations, she had also been on 5-7 ride alongs where she knows people were dealing meth, as well as delivered it once by person. She admitted to facilitating a drug transaction by connecting a dealer to a person, having sex with 5 different individuals, as well as [being] in contact with 2 boy friends in jail while relationships or contact with these persons were not permitted.

         Thus, IDHW concluded Mother had shown no improvement despite IDHW's involvement but, in fact, had regressed.

         IDHW filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights to Children on November 10, 2015.[2] An eight-day trial was held in May 2016. Forty-three witnesses testified, twelve more witnesses submitted stipulated offers of proof, and over one-hundred-eighty exhibits were admitted. The magistrate found termination proper on several bases and entered a judgment to that effect. This appeal timely followed.

         II. 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 I v. Doe II, 150 Idaho 46, 49, 244 P.3d 190, 193 (2010)). "[T]his Court will not disturb the magistrate court's decision to terminate parental rights if there is substantial, competent evidence in the record to support the decision." Doe I, 150 Idaho at 49, 244 P.3d at 193. "Substantial, competent evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted). Even if conflicting evidence is in the record, the judgment must be upheld so long as it is supported by substantial, competent evidence. Doe I v. Doe, 138 Idaho 893, 905-06, 71 P.3d 1040, 1052-53 (2003) (citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Substantial, competent evidence supports the magistrate's judgment.

         Under Idaho Code section 16-2005(1)(b), termination is proper where clear and convincing evidence shows that the "[t]he parent has neglected . . . the child" and termination is in the best interests of the child. Idaho Code defines ...


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