In re Doe, 010621 IDCCA, 48309

Docket Nº48309
Opinion JudgeLORELLO, JUDGE
Party NameIn the Interest of: John Doe I, A Child Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age. v. JANE DOE (2020-37), Respondent-Appellant. STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,
AttorneyPaige M. Nolta, Lewiston, for appellant. Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Floyd L. Swanton, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, Lewiston, for respondent.
Judge PanelJudge GRATTON and Judge BRAILSFORD, CONCUR.
Case DateJanuary 06, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeals of Idaho

In the Interest of: John Doe I, A Child Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.

STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,

v.

JANE DOE (2020-37), Respondent-Appellant.

No. 48309

Court of Appeals of Idaho

January 6, 2021

Appeal from the Magistrate Division of the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Nez Perce County. Hon. Michelle M. Evans, Magistrate.

Judgment terminating parental rights, affirmed.

Paige M. Nolta, Lewiston, for appellant.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Floyd L. Swanton, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, Lewiston, for respondent.

LORELLO, JUDGE

Jane Doe (2020-37) appeals from a judgment terminating her parental rights. We affirm.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Doe is the mother of the minor child in this action, who was born in 2018. The child was placed into foster care after it was determined that Doe and the child tested positive for several controlled substances at the time of the child's birth. Temporary custody of the child was awarded to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The magistrate court approved a case plan for Doe and the child's father and conducted several review hearings while the child was in the Department's custody. Doe made some progress and was granted extended home visits. However, these visits ceased when the Department learned that Doe had tested positive for methamphetamine. Ultimately, the Department filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of both parents. The magistrate court terminated Doe's parental rights after finding clear and convincing evidence that she had neglected the child and that termination is in the child's best interests.1 Doe appeals.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

On appeal from a decision terminating parental rights, this Court examines whether the decision is supported by substantial and competent evidence, which means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Doe v. Doe, 148 Idaho 243, 245-46, 220 P.3d 1062, 1064-65 (2009). The appellate court will indulge all reasonable inferences in support of the trial court's judgment when reviewing an order that parental rights be terminated. Id. The Idaho Supreme Court has also said that the substantial evidence test requires a greater quantum of evidence in cases where the trial court's finding must be supported by clear and convincing evidence than in cases where a mere preponderance is required. State v. Doe, 143 Idaho 343, 346, 144 P.3d 597, 600 (2006). Clear and convincing evidence is generally understood to be evidence indicating that the thing to be proved is highly probable or reasonably certain. Roe v. Doe, 143 Idaho 188, 191, 141 P.3d 1057, 1060 (2006). Further, the trial court's decision must be supported by objectively supportable grounds. Doe, 143 Idaho at 346, 144 P.3d at 600.

III.

ANALYSIS

Doe challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the magistrate court's findings of neglect and that termination is in the child's best interests. Doe also asserts that the magistrate court erred in holding that she had sufficient notice of one of the types of neglect alleged. The Department responds that substantial and competent evidence supports the magistrate court's termination decision and that Doe had sufficient notice of the allegation of neglect. We affirm the magistrate court's termination decision.

A.

Statutory Basis for Termination

A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a relationship with his or her child. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000); Doe v. State, 137 Idaho 758, 760, 53 P.3d 341, 343 (2002). This interest is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. State v. Doe, 144 Idaho 839, 842, 172 P.3d 1114, 1117 (2007). Implicit in the Termination of Parent and Child Relationship Act is the philosophy that, wherever possible, family life should be strengthened and preserved. I.C. § 16-2001(2). Idaho Code Section 16-2005 permits a party to petition the court for termination of the parent-child relationship when it is in the child's best interests and any one of the following five factors exist: (a) abandonment; (b) neglect or abuse; (c) lack of a biological relationship between the child and a presumptive parent; (d) the parent is unable to discharge parental responsibilities for a prolonged period that will be injurious to the health, morals, or well-being of the child; or (e) the parent is incarcerated and will remain incarcerated for a substantial period of time. Each statutory ground is an independent basis for termination. Doe, 144 Idaho at 842, 172 P.3d at 1117. Neglect may be established under any of several statutory definitions of neglect. See I.C. § 16-2002(3) (incorporating the definitions of the term "neglected" in I.C. § 16-1602(31)).

The magistrate court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Department had established three different statutory grounds of neglect: (1) neglect by conduct or omission of the parent, I.C. § 16-1602(31)(a); (2) neglect by the parent's inability to provide care, I.C. § 16-1602(31)(b); and (3) neglect by failure of the parent to complete a case plan, I.C. § 16-2002(3)(b). Doe challenges the magistrate court's finding for each of these three grounds of neglect. We address each in turn.

1.

Neglect by conduct or omission

Idaho Code Section 16-1602(31)(a) provides that a child is neglected when the child is without proper parental care and control, or subsistence, medical or other care or control necessary for his or her well-being because of the conduct or omission of his or her parents, guardian, or other custodian or their neglect or refusal to provide them. The magistrate court found that Doe neglected the child under I.C. § 16-1602(31)(a) because Doe: (1) ingested illegal drugs during pregnancy (causing the child to be born with medical conditions) and continued to struggle with a drug addiction; (2) allowed the child to come for overnight visits despite knowing illegal drugs were present in the home; and (3) lacked stable housing, employment, or other means to provide for the child's well-being.

Substantial and competent evidence in the record supports these findings. At the termination hearing, Doe testified that she had ingested illegal substances during pregnancy. The child's foster mother testified that the child had withdrawal symptoms of low weight gain and shaking. A developmental specialist testified that the child was referred to her program because the child tested positive for illegal drugs and that the specialist determined the child had a cognitive delay. Because Doe later failed to renew the program, the child stopped receiving these services. Doe admitted that, during the case plan, she relapsed and used methamphetamine she had taken from the child's father without his knowledge. During this same period, Doe allowed the child to come for overnight visits, which ceased when the Department learned that Doe had tested positive for methamphetamine. Doe was evicted from her apartment after multiple agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, executed a search warrant on the apartment, arrested the child's father, and charged him with trafficking narcotics. After her eviction, Doe moved in with a friend but did not have a lease agreement or rent obligation. Following a traffic stop, Doe was cited for misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. Regarding employment, Doe testified that she cleaned houses and babysat for two friends, but admitted it was "nothing with a regular paycheck." She also testified that she had part-time work at her father's painting business, but did not specify how many hours she worked. This evidence supports the magistrate court's finding that Doe's continued use of illegal drugs, lack of stable housing, and insufficient employment caused the child to be without the proper parental care necessary for the child's well-being.

On appeal, Doe contends the magistrate court erred because the Department and the child's foster parents provided for the child's needs, thus negating a finding of neglect under I.C. § 16-1602(31)(a). But, as the Department notes, Doe misinterprets this statute--the question is whether, due to the conduct or omission of Doe, the child is without proper parental care and control, or subsistence, medical, or other care or control necessary for the child's well-being. I.C. § 16-1602(31)(a). A parent can neglect a child by failing to provide proper parental care even if the child's needs are being met by others. As such, the magistrate court did not err by focusing solely on Doe's efforts to provide proper parental care for the child.

Doe also contends that the magistrate court erred because other evidence shows she provided care. Specifically, Doe asserts she attended a few of the child's medical appointments; attempted to set up a primary care physician for the child but was prevented from doing so by the Department; signed releases for the Department and the foster parents to care for the child; and had a home with bed, toys, clothes, and food for the child.2 She also asserts there is no evidence that she lacks "a strong bond" with the child. This Court's review, however, is limited to whether...

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