In re A.B., 22-0149

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
PartiesIn re A.B. and D.B.
Docket Number22-0149
Decision Date31 August 2022

In re A.B. and D.B.

No. 22-0149

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

August 31, 2022

Kanawha County 19-JA-499 and 19-JA-500


Petitioner Mother T.R., by counsel Sandra Bullman, appeals the Circuit Court of Kanawha County's January 21, 2022, order terminating her parental rights to A.B. and D.B.[1] The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources ("DHHR"), by counsel Patrick Morrisey and Brittany Ryers-Hindbaugh, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order. The guardian ad litem, Joseph H. Spano Jr., filed a response on the children's behalf in support of the circuit court's order. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in terminating her parental rights instead of imposing a less-restrictive dispositional alternative.

This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the governing law, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds that the circuit court erred in failing to set forth sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law by written order or on the record to support termination of petitioner's parental rights. This case satisfies the "limited circumstances" requirement of Rule 21(d) of the West Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure, and a memorandum decision is appropriate to vacate and remand the matter for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

In August of 2019, the DHHR filed a child abuse and neglect petition against petitioner and the father. The DHHR alleged that an out-of-court case had been opened against the family due to the parents' drug abuse. The parents were offered services, which they completed, but the case was never designated as "closed" in the DHHR's recordkeeping system due to an oversight. Once the DHHR learned of the oversight, it assigned the matter to a Child Protective Services ("CPS") worker, who attempted to visit with the family on and off again for a period of two weeks in order to officially close out services. However, petitioner and the father refused to answer the door. Eventually, the CPS worker made contact with the family, and observed that the children


were filthy, covered in dirt and grime. A.B., then age five, was clothed only in underwear that had once been white in color but were black due to dirt and filth. A.B. further had a chronic lice infestation that had been ongoing for a period of months. The CPS worker toured the home and observed that the children had been riding a mattress down the stairs and that the mattress was black due to dirt. Other mattresses in the home were also black with filth. Trash was on the floor, the home was otherwise dirty and cluttered, and there was insufficient food in the home. The home also smelled of garbage and feces. The CPS worker advised the parents to clean the home. When the CPS worker returned at an undisclosed time later, the home was not clean. Based on the foregoing, the DHHR filed the instant petition. Petitioner waived her preliminary hearing.

Petitioner stipulated to the allegations contained in the petition in January of 2020, and the circuit court adjudicated her as an abusing parent based upon her stipulation. The court granted petitioner an improvement period. The DHHR prepared a series of court summaries from September of 2019 through January of 2021. According to the court summaries, petitioner was offered services such as parenting and adult life skills classes and supervised visitation contingent upon clean drug screens. The summaries indicated that petitioner had not been consistent with random drug screens, missed scheduled screens, and showed up to screen on the days she chose.

On January 21, 2021, the circuit court held a dispositional hearing. Petitioner did not attend but her counsel was present and represented her. The DHHR presented the testimony of a CPS worker, who recommended that petitioner's parental rights be terminated due to her "substantial lack of compliance in the court proceedings." The CPS worker testified that petitioner had not complied with services and was not complying with drug screens. At the beginning of the case, petitioner did not submit to screens as scheduled and showed up to screen on days she was not supposed to. Then, later in the proceedings, petitioner completely ceased screening. Likewise, petitioner initially complied with parenting and adult life skills classes but her...

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