In re Doe, 122820 IDCCA, 48199

Docket Nº48199, 48200
Opinion JudgeGRATTON, JUDGE
Party NameIn the Matter of Jane Doe I, John Doe I, and Jane Doe II, Children Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age. v. JANE DOE (2020-29), Respondent-Appellant. STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,
AttorneyStacia C. Hagerty, Public Defender, Coeur d'Alene, for appellant. Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Denise L. Rosen, Deputy Attorney General, Coeur d'Alene, for respondent.
Judge PanelJudge LORELLO and Judge BRAILSFORD CONCUR.
Case DateDecember 28, 2020
CourtCourt of Appeals of Idaho

In the Matter of Jane Doe I, John Doe I, and Jane Doe II, Children Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.

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

v.

JANE DOE (2020-29), Respondent-Appellant.

Nos. 48199, 48200

Court of Appeals of Idaho

December 28, 2020

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Appeal from the Magistrate Division of the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Benewah County. Hon. Douglas P. Payne, Magistrate.

Judgment terminating parental rights, affirmed.

Stacia C. Hagerty, Public Defender, Coeur d'Alene, for appellant.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Denise L. Rosen, Deputy Attorney General, Coeur d'Alene, for respondent.

GRATTON, JUDGE

Jane Doe appeals from the magistrate court's judgment terminating Doe's parental rights. Doe argues that the magistrate court abused its discretion by terminating her parental rights without sufficient evidence, and that the magistrate court committed multiple errors warranting remand. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Doe is the mother of four children, the eldest of which is not involved in these matters. The remaining three children, J.G., M.G., and A.G., born in 2014, 2016, and 2017 respectively, came into the legal custody of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the Department) in 2018 while Doe was incarcerated on retained jurisdiction. Doe was released during the pendency of the child protection cases and given a case plan. She was then re-arrested and incarcerated five months later for violating the terms of her probation.

The Department filed a petition for the termination of Doe's parental rights in November 2019. At trial, the State presented testimony from the Department case manager, who testified that the Department had significant child protection history with the family. The case manager further testified that Doe was provided a case plan, and the areas of concern included that Doe had not regularly parented her children, she had issues with stability, substance abuse and mental health, and she engaged in domestically violent situations. Over the five months that Doe was out of custody, she visited seven out of the twenty-two offered visits and did not address the mental health or substance abuse concerns. At the time of the termination trial, Doe was incarcerated and testified on her own behalf telephonically via Zoom. In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the magistrate court found that Doe neglected her children and that it is in their best interests to terminate her parental rights. Doe timely appeals.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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. Idaho Code § 16-2001(2). Therefore, the requisites of due process must be met when terminating the parent-child relationship. State v. Doe, 143 Idaho 383, 386, 146 P.3d 649, 652 (2006). Due process requires that the grounds for terminating a parent-child relationship be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Id. Because a fundamental liberty interest is at stake, the United States Supreme Court has determined that a court may terminate a parent-child relationship only if that decision is supported by clear and convincing evidence. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 769 (1982); see also I.C. § 16-2009; In re Doe, 146 Idaho 759, 761-62, 203 P.3d 689, 691-92 (2009); Doe, 143 Idaho at 386, 146 P.3d at 652.

III.

ANALYSIS

Doe argues that there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to support the magistrate court's decision to terminate her parental rights. In addition, Doe argues that the court committed several errors, including improperly taking her testimony via Zoom without video, not complying with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), deciding the case without representation or adequate notice for the fathers of the children, and discrepancies between the written findings of fact and the oral recitation. We address each of these contentions below.

A.

Sufficiency of Evidence

In order for a court to terminate parental rights, it must first find that a statutory ground for termination exists. Statutory grounds for termination of parental rights include: (a) abandonment; (b) neglect or abuse; (c) lack of a biological relationship between the child and a presumptive parent; (d) inability to discharge parental responsibilities for a prolonged period, which will be injurious to the health, morals, or well-being of the child; or (e) incarceration for a substantial period of time during the child's minority. I.C. § 16-2005. Upon finding a statutory ground for termination, the court must also find that it is in the best interests of the child to terminate the parent-child relationship. I.C. § 16-2005(1). Both findings must be established by clear and convincing evidence.

The statutory ground the court found in this case was neglect. Idaho Code § 16-2002(3)(a) defines "neglect" as any conduct included in I.C. § 16-1602(31). Section 16-1602(31)(a) provides, in pertinent part, 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. Neglect also exists where the parent has failed to comply with the court's orders or the case plan in a child protective act case and the Department has had temporary or legal custody of the child for fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months and reunification has not been accomplished by the last day of the fifteenth month in which the child has been in the temporary or legal custody of the Department. I.C. § 16-2002(3)(b).

Doe argues that the evidence submitted by the Department was insufficient to support the magistrate court's finding of neglect. Specifically, Doe argues that there was evidence on the record that she did not neglect her children, as she succeeded on her rider, made progress on her case plan, and had parented her children in the past. In addition, Doe argues that the magistrate court's statements concerning her issues with substance abuse were not supported in the record.

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. In re 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. In re Doe, 143 Idaho 188, 191, 141 P.3d 1057, 1060 (2006). Further, the magistrate court's decision must be supported by objectively supportable grounds. In re Doe, 143 Idaho at 346, 144 P.3d at 600.

While it may be true that Doe succeeded on her rider, made limited progress on her case plan, and had a relationship with her children in the past, it is not the function of this Court to reweigh the evidence considered by the magistrate court. There are multiple facts that the magistrate court ultimately relied on in its finding of neglect, which were supported by substantial evidence. The magistrate court found, based on the evidence presented, that Doe had failed to provide for the children's well-being, safety, and health due to her own conduct. Doe's choices led to her initial incarceration, at which point her children were brought into the custody of the Department. After being released, she made only seven of the twenty-two offered visits, and did not address mental health or substance abuse concerns, and made little effort to comply with her case plan. Five months after her release, she...

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