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In re Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 23, 2019

In the Interest of: Jane Doe I, Jane Doe II, and Jane Doe III, Children Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
v.
JANE DOE (2019-17), Respondent-Appellant, STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent, and GUARDIAN AD LITEM, Guardian Ad Litem-Respondent.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Nez Perce County. Victoria Olds, Magistrate Judge.

         Order terminating parental rights, affirmed.

          McFarland Law Office, Lewiston, for appellant. Joanna Maria McFarland argued.

          Lawrence G. Wasden, Lewiston, for respondent. Floyd Leavitt Elmer Swanton argued.

          Nolta Law Office, Lewiston, for respondent Guardian Ad Litem. Paige M. Nolta argued.

          BURDICK, Chief Justice.

         Jane Doe ("Mother") appeals the Nez Perce County magistrate court's termination of her parental rights to her minor children Jane Doe I ("B.L.S."), Jane Doe II ("X.V.S."), and Jane Doe III ("A.C.S."). On December 11, 2018, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare ("Department") filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights to B.L.S., X.V.S., and A.C.S. After a four-day trial, the magistrate court found by clear and convincing evidence that termination was proper on the grounds of neglect and that termination was in the best interests of the children. The magistrate court also terminated the parental rights of John Doe ("Father"), who filed a separate appeal regarding termination of his parental rights to B.L.S. and A.C.S., but not X.V.S. because he is not the biological father of that child. On June 11, 2019, the magistrate court entered a final judgment terminating Mother's parental rights. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This appeal concerns the termination of Mother's parental rights to her three minor children, B.L.S. (born March 25, 2008), X.V.S. (born December 31, 2014), and A.C.S. (born December 24, 2017). On Christmas Eve, 2017, the Department received a referral when A.C.S. was born prematurely at Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, Idaho. Mother's amniotic fluid had ruptured prematurely due to drug use. Tests confirmed that A.C.S. was prenatally exposed to methamphetamine. Shortly after her birth, A.C.S. was life-flighted to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington for treatment.

         On-call staff for the Department conducted an initial safety assessment and the Department's Region 2 Child Welfare Supervisor (Region Supervisor) met with Mother at Gritman Medical Center on December 27, 2017. Mother explained that she and Father had been in an on-and-off relationship for the past 20 years. At the time of the meeting, Mother and Father lived together in a camper on his family farm near Kendrick. Mother disclosed that she actively used methamphetamine, and had used methamphetamine while pregnant with A.C.S. She also explained that she and Father used methamphetamine together in their camper, sometimes with their children present.

         She also described frequent incidents of domestic violence that occurred in the home. For instance, when the couple fought they would yell and throw appliances and other objects at each other. Mother recalled an incident where the windshield of one of their vehicles had been shattered when an object was thrown at it during a fight. X.V.S. was inside the vehicle at the time, and B.L.S. was possibly present as well. Mother also described an incident where Father "ripped the door off the hinges of the camper" during a "drug-induced altercation" and left it on the ground for days. During another incident, Father threatened to harm himself and Mother with a firearm while the children were "in the vicinity."

         On January 2, 2018, based on the information Mother provided to the Region Supervisor and the rest of its investigation, the Department filed a motion to remove the children from the home under the Child Protection Act. The petition was granted the same day and a shelter-care hearing was scheduled for January 4, 2018. At the hearing, Mother stipulated to the Department retaining custody of all three children on the basis of an unstable home environment. Father was not present, but attended a continued shelter-care hearing on January 8, 2018, where he also stipulated to jurisdiction due to an unstable home environment. B.L.S. and X.V.S. were placed into foster care with one of Father's cousins, and A.C.S. was eventually placed into foster care with Father's sister after a one-month stay with another foster family.

         After an adjudicatory hearing where Father and Mother again stipulated to the Department retaining jurisdiction and custody, the Department worked with the parents to develop a case plan. Mother agreed to the tasks in the case plan and it was adopted by the court on February 23, 2018.

         Mother's case plan contained tasks for her to complete that were designed with the goal of establishing "stability in her life so she is able to be a safe parent to her children" by living "a sober life, free of abuse and neglect for herself and her children." The first task in Mother's case plan required her to complete a substance abuse assessment (GAIN-I assessment) and comply with the recommendations of the treatment provider. Mother was supposed to begin the first task no later than 15 days from the date the case plan was approved. The second task required Mother to establish and maintain sobriety, complete random urinalysis tests (UAs) at the request of Department staff, and self-report barriers to attending treatment or maintaining sobriety. The third task required Mother to attend and participate in mental health services. The fourth task required Mother to demonstrate stability in her housing status by establishing sober housing. Mother's fifth task required that she demonstrate the ability to meet her own basic needs as well as the needs of her children. This task included the requirement that she demonstrate financial stability to meet the needs of her children as well as her own. The case plan further specified that Mother could work toward accomplishing this task by accessing resources such as Idaho Housing, Community Action, or the Salvation Army to meet her children's needs, as well as her own. Mother's sixth task required that she participate in all scheduled visitation with her children and demonstrate her ability to recognize the needs of her children by responding to them in an age-appropriate manner. The seventh task required Mother to actively participate in all reunification services with her children. The final task required Mother to address the domestic violence and relationship conflict with Father if they planned to stay together. The case plan listed individual counseling, anger-management evaluations, couples counseling, and parent counseling as possible services to be used in accomplishing this task.

         The magistrate court held review hearings in May, June, and September of 2018 to evaluate the parents' progress on their case plans, the status of the children in their foster-care placements, and the Department's reunification efforts. At a review hearing on October 29, 2018, the Department requested an early permanency hearing on the grounds that both parents had made little progress on their case plans. Agreeing that the parents had made very little progress up to that point, the magistrate court moved the permanency hearing up from December 28, 2018, to November 26, 2018. At the permanency hearing, the magistrate court approved a permanency plan that sought termination of parental rights and relative adoption with the foster parents as the primary goal for each child.

         The Department subsequently filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of both Mother and Father on December 11, 2018, approximately 11 months after the children had been placed in the Department's custody. At the time of the trial, Mother was living with Father in a house he was renting in Kendrick. The Department's petition asked the magistrate court to terminate Mother's parental rights on the following grounds:

COUNT I
The children are neglected as defined in I.C. §§ 16-2005(1)(b), 16-2002(3)(a), and 16-1602(31)(a) [because they] are without proper parental care and control, and/or subsistence, medical and/or other care or control necessary for their well-being because of the conduct and/or omission of their parents, and/or their neglect or refusal to provide [for] them . . . .
COUNT II
The children are neglected as defined in I.C. §§ 16-2005(1)(b), 16-2005(1)(d), 16-2002(3)(a), and 16-602(31)(b) because their parents are unable to discharge their responsibilities to and for them and, as a result of such inability, the children lack the parental care necessary for their health, safety and/or well-being. Such inability will continue for a prolonged indeterminate period . . . .
COUNT III
The parents have neglected the children as defined in I.C. § 16-2005(1)(b) because the parents have failed to comply with the Court's orders and/or the case plan in a Child Protective [A]ct case. [The children] have been in the custody of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare since their removal on January 2, 2018.

         After a four-day trial, the magistrate court made the following findings by clear and convincing evidence: the Department had legal custody of the children for 15 of the most recent 22 months without reunification occurring;[1] Mother failed to comply with the case plan, failed to provide proper parental care and control for her children, and is unable to discharge her parental responsibilities; and termination of Mother's parental rights was in the best interest of B.L.S., X.V.S., and A.C.S.

         The magistrate court entered a final order terminating Mother's parental rights to B.L.S., X.V.S., and A.C.S. on June 11, 2019. Mother timely appeals.

         II. ...


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