In re Interest of J.H., No. 20-0854

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtCHRISTENSEN, Chief Justice.
Citation952 N.W.2d 157
Parties In the INTEREST OF J.H., Minor Child. J.H., Father, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 20-0854
Decision Date18 December 2020

952 N.W.2d 157

In the INTEREST OF J.H., Minor Child.

J.H., Father, Appellant.

No. 20-0854

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Submitted November 17, 2020
Filed December 18, 2020


Alexandra M. Nelissen of Advocate Law, PLLC, Clive, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ellen Ramsey-Kacena, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

Nicole Garbis Nolan of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

Christensen, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which all justices joined.

CHRISTENSEN, Chief Justice.

In this case, we must decide whether the juvenile court was correct in terminating a father's parental rights. The father has an extensive history of involvement with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) due to his issues with domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, and cognitive functioning, which have led to the termination of his parental rights to ten other children and the removal of his child upon birth in this case. Although he made some progress in addressing his domestic violence and substance abuse issues in this case, he never progressed past fully supervised visits with the child. When serious health issues arose that required the child to undergo multiple surgeries, attend frequent doctors’ appointments, and receive

952 N.W.2d 159

special care from his caretakers, the father showed no interest in the child's medical care and failed to gain any understanding of how to care for the child's medical needs.

The juvenile court ultimately found the State had proven the grounds for termination of the father's parental rights and termination was in the child's best interests based on the father's failure to understand the child's medical needs and inability to safely parent. The father appealed,1 and the court of appeals reversed. We granted the State's application for further review. On our de novo review, we conclude the father remains incapable of safely caring for the child, and there is no indication that his parenting abilities will adequately improve in the foreseeable future despite the extensive services he has received over the years. Therefore, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the order of the juvenile court terminating the father's parental rights.

I. Background Facts.

J.H. was born in April 2019. Mom and Dad came to the attention of DHS at the time of J.H.’s birth due to their significant history of DHS involvement. This family's history of DHS involvement spans around twenty years and has led to the termination of their parental rights to ten other children for each parent—eight children the parents shared together, two of Mom's children from prior relationships, and two of Dad's children from prior relationships. The parents have been married to each other since February 2016 and reside together. Although Mom's termination is not on appeal, we discuss her history and involvement in this case due to Dad's enduring commitment to raising J.H. with Mom and her extended family.

Both parents struggle with cognitive functioning that has impacted their ability to parent in the past. At the time of trial, Dad was fifty-four years old and Mom was thirty-nine years old. Dad has cognitive functioning challenges due to a brain injury. He frequently denies having a brain injury, as he did in this termination hearing, while at other times, he attributes it to a motorcycle accident, an assault, or cocaine use. He receives services to help manage his day-to-day affairs. Despite this assistance, Dad still fails to adequately meet his own health needs. For example, he has hypertension, yet he often forgets or chooses not to take his blood pressure medication. Similarly, he never engaged in the recommended six-month follow-up CT scan for his lungs related to a stab wound in 2017, and he waited until he was experiencing "increased wheezing, shortness of breath, and cough productive of dark sputum" in 2019 to seek this CT scan.

A 2013 psychiatric evaluation of Mom, which was conducted for the purposes of determining whether she was competent to stand trial, revealed a full-scale IQ of 55. The psychiatrist determined she was not competent to stand trial and "NEVER WILL BE. " The psychiatrist also noted Mom would likely need assistance with "tasks more complicated than tying her shoes" and was "not capable of living independently." Mom receives services to help her with her daily living functions, such as hygiene and shopping.

Both parents have significant criminal histories. Dad has multiple convictions for domestic abuse assault, some of which are felony convictions, as well as convictions for intoxication, disorderly conduct, possession

952 N.W.2d 160

of drug paraphernalia, and assault causing bodily injury. Mom has multiple convictions for assault on a peace officer and disorderly conduct in addition to convictions for harassment of a public official, fifth-degree criminal mischief, and interference with official acts.

Dad first had his rights terminated to two children from a prior relationship in 2008. Leading up to that termination, Dad was subject to a no-contact order because he assaulted one of the children. Mom had her rights terminated to a child from a prior relationship in 2000, whom she gave birth to while she was committed to a mental health institution because she was "accused of several aggressive criminal acts" and found to be incompetent. Mom also had her rights terminated to another child from a prior relationship in 2009.

Mom and Dad have had eight children together before J.H., all of whom the parents have had their rights terminated. Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(g ) has been a ground for termination in each case involving the parents’ rights to the children they had together. When asked at the termination hearing in this case about "reports ... that it's [her] intent to keep having children until [she's] able to keep one," Mom confirmed, "I did say that, yes, I did."

Mom and Dad had their rights terminated to their first child together, Child 1,2 in 2009. Just two days after progressing to their first overnight visit in that case, Dad became intoxicated and attempted to hit Mom and cover her face with a pillow while she was holding Child 1. Mom did not initially report this incident because she was afraid of the consequences it would have on their parental rights. The parents failed to show any progress after this incident, and the juvenile court eventually terminated Dad's rights under Iowa Code sections 232.116(1)(d ), (g ), and (l ), and Mom's rights under Iowa Code sections 232.116(1)(d ), (e ), (g ), and (h ). In doing so, the juvenile court explained,

[Dad] has not shown he can sustain changes regarding his domestic abusive behavior and substance abuse issues. [Mom] has made her best efforts to learn to safely care for her children. However, she is still unable to make appropriate decisions as indicated by the incidents which caused the removal of [Child 1]. An example of her inability to make appropriate decisions is the fact that [Mom] and [Dad] are now living together. Neither has progressed to the point where they can parent independently.

A year later, the parents’ rights to Child 2 were terminated after Dad consented to termination and the juvenile court determined Mom abandoned Child 2. Since then, common themes of domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues, and the inability to demonstrate sustained progress have emerged in every one of the parents’ subsequent termination cases. While the parents were trying to reunify with Child 3, police responded to the scene of a disturbance in which Mom was out of control and shouting in the street with Dad present. This resulted in Dad's arrest for controlled substances and paraphernalia that police found in Mom's backpack but Dad claimed were his. Mom refused to respond to police commands, and police had to tase her three times in order to handcuff her. In that termination order, the juvenile court noted the parents failed to demonstrate "discernable positive

952 N.W.2d 161

change." In their termination of parental rights to Child 4 in 2013, the juvenile court similarly explained the "parents continue to lack the ability or willingness to respond to services which would correct the situation."

Child 5 was removed from the parents’ care due to Mom's "unresolved mental health" issues and the parents’ domestic violence. The parents failed to participate in services and could not be located for the July 2014 hearing, which led to the termination of their parental rights to Child 5. Child 6 was born in January 2017 in Minnesota, where the parents had gone to have Child 6 with the hopes of avoiding DHS involvement. By May, the parents had returned to Iowa and came to DHS's attention after the parents were involved in a domestic assault incident. Mom tried to pry Child 6 out of Dad's arms to leave Dad after an argument and punched Dad in the eye while he was holding Child 6, resulting in Dad allowing Mom to take Child 6 and leave. Although the juvenile court entered a removal order on May 4 due to the parents’ "domestic violence with the child present, [Dad's] ongoing substance abuse, [Mom's] low-functioning...

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25 practice notes
  • In re Interest of A.B., No. 20-1266
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 2 Abril 2021
    ...at 208 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 629(a)(7) (2000 & Supp. II 2002)). We, as 957 N.W.2d 291 a state, have followed suit. See In re J.H. , 952 N.W.2d 157, 170 (Iowa 2020) ("While we recognize the law requires a ‘full measure of patience with troubled parents who attempt to remedy a lack of......
  • In re T.F., 21-0243
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 11 Marzo 2022
    ...1978)). We lack jurisdiction to hear the father's appeal and should dismiss it without reaching the merits of his argument. In re J.H., 952 N.W.2d 157, 165 (Iowa 2020) (dismissing a mother's appeal from a juvenile court ruling "because it was untimely"). For these reasons, I concu......
  • In re W.T., 21-0540
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 3 Diciembre 2021
    ...appeal. Although an untimely appeal from a termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) order results in dismissal of the appeal, see In re J.H., 952 N.W.2d 157, 165 (Iowa 2020), we recently extended our delayed appeal jurisprudence involving criminal appeals to TPR appeals under limited circumstan......
  • In re Interest of W.M., No. 20-1319
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 2 Abril 2021
    ...We lack jurisdiction to hear W.D.’s father's appeal and should dismiss it without reaching the merits of his argument. In re J.H. , 952 N.W.2d 157, 165 (Iowa 2020) (dismissing terminated mother's appeal "because it was untimely"). McDonald, J., joins this concurrence in part and d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • In re Interest of A.B., No. 20-1266
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 2 Abril 2021
    ...at 208 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 629(a)(7) (2000 & Supp. II 2002)). We, as 957 N.W.2d 291 a state, have followed suit. See In re J.H. , 952 N.W.2d 157, 170 (Iowa 2020) ("While we recognize the law requires a ‘full measure of patience with troubled parents who attempt to remedy a lack of......
  • In re T.F., 21-0243
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 11 Marzo 2022
    ...1978)). We lack jurisdiction to hear the father's appeal and should dismiss it without reaching the merits of his argument. In re J.H., 952 N.W.2d 157, 165 (Iowa 2020) (dismissing a mother's appeal from a juvenile court ruling "because it was untimely"). For these reasons, I concu......
  • In re W.T., 21-0540
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 3 Diciembre 2021
    ...appeal. Although an untimely appeal from a termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) order results in dismissal of the appeal, see In re J.H., 952 N.W.2d 157, 165 (Iowa 2020), we recently extended our delayed appeal jurisprudence involving criminal appeals to TPR appeals under limited circumstan......
  • In re Interest of W.M., No. 20-1319
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 2 Abril 2021
    ...We lack jurisdiction to hear W.D.’s father's appeal and should dismiss it without reaching the merits of his argument. In re J.H. , 952 N.W.2d 157, 165 (Iowa 2020) (dismissing terminated mother's appeal "because it was untimely"). McDonald, J., joins this concurrence in part and d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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