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In re Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 20, 2019

In the Matter of: Jane Doe II, A Child Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
JANE DOE (2019-23), Respondent-Appellant. JANE DOE I and JOHN DOE I, Husband and Wife, Petitioners-Respondents,

          Appeal from the Magistrate Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bonner County. Lori Meulenberg, Magistrate Judge.

         The judgment of the magistrate court is affirmed.

          Featherstone Law Firm, Chtd., Sandpoint, for Appellant.

          Berg, McLaughlin & Nelson, Chtd., Sandpoint, for Respondents.

          MOELLER, Justice.

         This case arises from a private action by grandparents seeking to terminate the parental rights of a mother-their daughter-to her child-their grandchild. Grandparents seek termination of Mother's rights to Child on the grounds Mother abandoned Child, Mother neglected Child, and that termination of Mother's parental rights was in Child's best interests.[1]Following the trial, the magistrate court granted the Grandparents' petition, ultimately concluding that Mother's conduct met the definitions of abandonment and neglect set forth in sections 16-2002(5) and 16-1602(31) of the Idaho Code. The magistrate court further concluded that termination of Mother's parental rights was in Child's best interests. We affirm.


         Child was born on January 5, 2010, in Bonner County, Idaho. Grandmother (Mother's biological mother) and Grandfather (Mother's step-father) have been the primary caretakers of Child since her birth with the sole exception of a four-month period when Mother cared for Child. Grandparents have had full custody of Child since March 2012. Initially, Mother and Child lived with Grandparents-a time when "[Mother] would stay out until all hours, sleep, eat, and go out again, while leaving [Child] in [Grandmother's] care." During this time, Grandmother found methamphetamine in Mother's room where she stayed with Child (who was approximately two years old at that time) and the family reported instances of paranoia and drug use by Mother. The exact date Mother moved out of Grandparents' home is unclear from the record, but Grandmother became Child's legal guardian on July 2, 2012. As guardian, Grandmother can refuse Mother's visitations if Mother is "incarcerated, homeless, or under the influence of drugs," as well as request a drug test if she suspects Mother is under the influence of drugs.

         Mother has two other children from previous relationships, each cared for primarily by their respective fathers. Mother does not have custody or primary caretaking responsibilities of any of her children. Mother's past relationships have resulted in criminal charges of violence brought against Mother, and Mother consistently relies on boyfriends, family members, or other friends for a place to live. For instance, between July of 2014 and March of 2015, Mother's listed residences rotated between three different boyfriends interspersed by 32 days in Bonner County Jail in connection with two separate incarcerations. Mother's ex-husband testified that "[Mother] jumps from house to house, you know, from guy to guy who will supply her lifestyle or whatever she needs." One example of Mother's on-again, off-again relationships is with an ex-fiancé who filed a domestic abuse charge against Mother in October of 2018. Mother's probation officer later testified that the ex-fiancé physically abused Mother and that he is "not very conducive for her -- her sobriety at this time." Yet Mother has renewed this relationship multiple times.

         Mother's work history is equally sporadic. The district court found that "Mother seems to be employed consistently; however, she is never consistently employed," with jobs changing every few weeks or months. Child's financial support stems primarily from Grandparents, with Mother giving Child gifts at birthdays and holidays-i.e. a sweatshirt, hat, iPhone, hover board, BB gun, etc.-as well as helping pay for some clothing or occasionally giving Child spending money.

         Grandparents testified that Mother visited Child infrequently and often missed scheduled appointments. Mother alleged that Grandparents often changed the visits at the last minute, were unwilling to reschedule Child's schedule, and discouraged several gifts Mother gave as unnecessary or extravagant. Mother also stated that she requested a set visitation schedule multiple times, but that Grandparents never set that up. For the last seven years, Mother's residences have been approximately 45-60 miles away from Child, and Mother cites several reasons she cannot visit Child more often: lack of gas money, no reliable transportation, and that Grandparents have alcohol and firearms in their home, which would violate Mother's probation. In one instance where Mother informed Grandmother that she needed gas money, Child said "I have cash" and "loaned" $16 to Mother.

         Child is enrolled in a variety of extracurricular activities, including swimming lessons, dance, gymnastics, and golf camp, but Grandparents testified that they were always willing to make Child available to see Mother. Prior to 2016, Grandparents testified that Mother followed her visitation order "most of the time." The court compiled the following data on Mother's visits from 2016 onward based on Grandparents' records:

■ December 21, 2016 to December 13, 2017: on average 2.16 visits per month;
■ December 13, 2017 to September 6, 2018: on average 1.6 visits per month;
■ September 6, 2018 to April 2, 2019: four visits total, on average 0.56 visits per month.

         While the trial of this matter was continued, between September of 2018 and April of 2019, three of those four visits-each one unannounced-occurred within the week of Christmas (visiting December 25, 28, and 30 in 2018). The fourth visit appears to have been in late March, making approximately three months of no visits to Child both prior to and following Christmas. Mother testified that the visits decreased during this time because of her drug use. By April 2019, Mother was tested for drugs eight times per month, and attended AA meetings and counseling in Rathdrum. However, Mother never asked her probation officer to send copies of the UA tests to Grandparents for visits with Child.

         Psychiatric records indicate Mother admitted a history of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as being diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and depression. Mother has also discussed a history of suicidal thoughts "but states that she 'wants to live.'" However, the record indicates that Mother only pursued counseling once in 2015 and twice in early 2019 (while under court order). In addition, Mother "has shown serious anger issues, which she is unable to control on her own." Mother's sister testified that Mother exhibits "erratic behavior," but is making progress in her mental health and struggles with addiction even if she has yet to achieve stability. Another family member reported instances of neglect and improper care to new dogs Mother acquired, including an instance of allowing a puppy to grow into its collar for so long "it was embedded into her skin."

         Grandmother and Mother have a "history of conflict . . . that continues to present," and that "goes from peaceful to discord quite frequently." Mother alleges that Grandfather physically abused her when she was young. In addition, Mother alleges Grandmother struggles with alcoholism, concerns that were shared by Grandmother's ex-husband (Mother's biological father). Despite these allegations, Mother has maintained communication with Grandmother, who has supported Mother through "her legal issues," including providing money for use in prison and aid to find housing on her release. While the magistrate court later stated that it "believes there are some red flags regarding [Grandmother's] use of alcohol," the court noted "there has been no dispositive evidence that [Grandmother's] alcohol use is detrimental to [Child]."

         In addition, family members-as witnesses on behalf of both sides-have said that Mother has a reputation for being untruthful. Some examples of this reputation from the record include: Mother did not share her recent drug use with the evaluating psychiatrist in January and February of 2019, despite having used methamphetamine the previous three months. Mother also once asked a friend to take a drug test for her, sending a text message that read:

Hey odd question if I buy a drug test can you take it for me I've smoked pot and I don't [sic] think it's out of my system yet and my mom wants a ua done and the result emailed to her . . . you own a day care I can just tell her you gave me the same test you do your employees.

         Likewise, Mother has even admitted to lying to a guardian ad litem in the past about the instability of her residences and ...

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