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In re Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 18, 2019

In the Matter of: JANE DOE, A Child Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
v.
JANE DOE, Respondent-Appellant, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent, And GUARDIAN AD LITEM, Intervenor-Respondent.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Cassia County. Hon. Blaine P. Cannon, Magistrate Judge.

         Magistrate court decree terminating parental rights, affirmed.

          Hilverda McRae, PLLC, Twin Falls, for appellant. Adam Ondo argued.

          James T. Baird, Idaho Attorney General, Twin Falls, argued for respondent.

          Scott Lindstrom, Burley, for intervenor-respondent.

          BURDICK, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Jane Doe (Mother) appeals the Cassia County magistrate court's termination of her parental rights to her minor child, T.G.E. (Child). On May 3, 2017, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the Department) moved to terminate Mother's parental rights. Following a termination hearing, the magistrate court found termination proper based on neglect and entered an order to that effect on December 8, 2017 (the Order). However, in a subsequent decree (the Decree) issued on December 15, 2017, the magistrate court stated Mother's parental rights were being terminated based on abandonment. The court also terminated Father's parental rights; however, Father had voluntarily relinquished his parental rights and is not a party to this appeal. On appeal, both Mother and the Department raised procedural issues in briefing relating to the conflicting Order and Decree. Subsequently, this Court remanded the case for entry of a new judgment terminating Mother and Father's rights to Child, and stated the Order would constitute the findings of fact and conclusions of law. Mother timely appeals and contends the magistrate court erred when it terminated Mother's parental rights. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Mother gave birth to Child on June 14, 2016. At the time of Child's birth, Mother had pending felony drug charges and there was an active warrant for her arrest. After birth, Child's umbilical cord blood tested positive for methamphetamine. Mother admitted to using illegal drugs during the first three months of her pregnancy, stating she did not know she was pregnant at that time. Mother was arrested a few days after Child's birth on the outstanding warrant. Three days after Child's birth, on June 17, 2016, the Department filed a petition asking that Child be placed in the legal custody of the Department. Child was placed in foster care with a paternal aunt.

         On July 5, 2016, Mother submitted to a hair follicle test that was positive for methamphetamine at a level that indicated Mother had not stopped using methamphetamine three months into pregnancy. On July 8, 2016, the Department filed an amended petition asking the court to make a finding of aggravated circumstances because Mother's parental rights had been terminated involuntarily with respect to five other children in 2015. The parties came to an agreement that Child would be put in custody of the Department, that the Department agreed not to pursue the aggravated circumstances, and that both Mother and Father would work a case plan with the goal of reunifying Child to the family. Based on Mother's lack of progress with the case plan, the Department moved to terminate parental rights on May 3, 2017.

         Following the termination hearing, the magistrate judge entered the Order. In the Order the court entered its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, focusing on Mother's failure to comply with her case plan. The case plan contained several tasks Mother was required to complete. The magistrate judge analyzed each task in Mother's case plan and found that while Mother had completed some tasks, she had only partially completed some and had completely failed others. For example, though Mother entered drug treatment as required by the plan, she continued to test positive for methamphetamine every time she submitted to a hair follicle test. From July through November in 2016, Mother's levels of methamphetamine in her hair follicles rose from 4307 pg/mg in July to 10710 pg/mg in November. Mother also missed several follicle tests between February and August 2017, and admitted to using methamphetamine while working the case plan.

         Mother was also required to report to her case worker every three weeks with her progress and proof of attending treatment. Though Mother initially complied, she later missed her appointments and subsequently only had contact with the Department after Mother was incarcerated and her case worker met with her at the jail. After Mother's release, she made no effort to contact the Department.

         Mother was able to comply with some of her tasks. For example, the magistrate judge found that Mother had maintained safe and sanitary housing and had maintained full time employment. Also, Mother complied with her plan by demonstrating appropriate behavior during visits with Child and attending some of Child's medical appointments. However, the magistrate judge found that Mother failed to show "her ability to understand her role in the circumstances that led to [Child] being placed in foster care" and an "understanding of her need to change" her lifestyle. The court stated that while Mother admits she has a problem, she "continues to deny the extent of her methamphetamine use. She has not shown the desire or ability to make the necessary life changes."

         Mother was also required to participate in visitation with Child. Here again, Mother complied initially but as time went on began showing up late to appointments and later missing appointments completely. While some missed visits occurred because Mother was in jail, Mother also missed visits when she was not incarcerated. At the time of the termination trial, Child had been in the care and custody of the Department from June 17, 2016 through October 23, 2017, which was 16 consecutive months.

         Mother also failed to comply with the task that required her to report any changes in her legal status to the Department. Mother was on felony probation while she was working on her case plan. Mother did not notify the Department when she was charged with a probation violation in August 2017. This probation violation occurred when a car Mother was riding in was stopped for a traffic violation and methamphetamine was found in the car. Subsequently, Mother was incarcerated three different times between June 2016 and September 2017.

         Another task in Mother's case plan had to do with Mother's purported brain tumor and required Mother to provide the Department with documentation from a medical professional relating to the diagnosis and treatment recommendations for the tumor. It also stated Mother would follow the recommended treatment and the Department would help her find funding if Mother could not qualify for Medicaid. The magistrate judge found that Mother did not comply with this task and that Mother did not provide proof she still had the tumor or proof of its progression. The court stated Mother had done nothing to treat the tumor and she seemed unconcerned about its potential impact on her ability to parent Child.

         The magistrate judge concluded that termination of parental rights based on neglect was in the best interests of Child. The magistrate judge stated that while Mother had made some effort to address her drug use and improve her parenting skills, those efforts were ...


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