In re L.H., L-22-1078

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtPIETRYKOWSKI, J.
Citation2022 Ohio 3263
PartiesIn re L.H., N.H.
Docket NumberL-22-1078
Decision Date16 September 2022

2022-Ohio-3263

In re L.H., N.H.

No. L-22-1078

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Lucas

September 16, 2022


Trial Court No. JC 20280409

Bradley W. King, for appellee.

Adam H. Houser, for appellant.

DECISION AND JUDGMENT

PIETRYKOWSKI, J.

{¶ 1} This is an appeal from the judgment of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, which awarded permanent custody of the minor children, L.H. and N.H., to appellee, Lucas County Children Services ("LCCS"), thereby terminating the parental rights of mother-appellant, J.A.[1] For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

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I. Facts and Procedural Background

{¶ 2} The present case began on June 4, 2020, when LCCS filed a complaint in dependency and neglect, alleging ongoing issues involving mother's drug abuse and concerns of domestic violence. On July 20, 2020, mother consented to a finding of dependency and neglect, and the children were placed with a maternal aunt. Mother was provided with case plan services to address her issues of drug abuse; domestic violence services were expected to be provided once mother had established progress on her substance abuse services.

{¶ 3} Prior to the disposition hearing, the maternal aunt indicated that she could no longer care for the children. LCCS then identified paternal relatives in Arizona that might be interested in taking the children. At the disposition hearing, mother consented that temporary custody of the children should be awarded to LCCS pending an interstate review of the paternal relatives in Arizona.

{¶ 4} On December 7, 2020, the trial court held a reasonable efforts review hearing. Based on the testimony of the LCCS caseworker, Danielle Stroble, the trial court found that mother had been sporadically attending substance abuse treatment, was unsuccessfully discharged from Racing for Recovery, and was in the process of seeking treatment through the Zepf Center.

{¶ 5} At the annual review hearing on June 3, 2021, Stroble testified that mother had made very little progress regarding her substance abuse issues. Stroble also testified

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that the children's placement in Arizona was recently disrupted, and that the agency would be seeking permanent custody of the children.

{¶ 6} On June 24, 2021, LCCS moved for permanent custody of L.H. and N.H., and a pretrial hearing was scheduled for August 13, 2021. Summons was sent by certified mail to mother's address, and an entry showing that it was successfully delivered was entered on August 5, 2021. At the August 13, 2021 pretrial hearing, mother's attorney noted that mother had sent her a message stating that mother could not be at the pretrial hearing because she had a scheduled medical appointment. The matter was then set for the permanent custody hearing on October 6, 2021.

{¶ 7} Prior to the October 6, 2021 hearing, mother retained a new attorney, and the permanent custody hearing was ultimately rescheduled to January 26, 2022. Notice of the January 26, 2022 hearing date was sent to mother's attorney.

{¶ 8} At the start of the January 26, 2022 permanent custody hearing, mother's counsel moved for a continuance because mother was not at the hearing. Counsel relayed that mother had moved and changed her phone number, and that mother claimed that she did not receive notice of the hearing. Counsel informed the court, however, that he had spoken with mother and told her that the hearing was on January 26, 2022, and that he had mailed notice of the hearing to mother shortly after the hearing date was set several weeks earlier. Counsel stated that he spoke with mother that morning, and learned for the

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first time that mother had moved and changed her phone number. The trial court denied mother's motion for a continuance, and proceeded with the hearing.

{¶ 9} At the permanent custody hearing, Stroble testified that she first began working with the family in May 2019, when the agency received allegations of abuse or neglect. Stroble worked with the family in a non-custody manner, offering case plan services for substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence. Stroble testified that the complaint was filed in June 2020 because mother was not engaging in case plan services, she was not consistently providing drug screens when requested, and she was not following through with treatment.

{¶ 10} Stroble explained that throughout her involvement with the case, mother has been linked to ten different substance abuse treatment providers. Mother received a mental health and substance abuse diagnosis from Harbor and worked with them in July 2019 for about one month. Mother's performance at Harbor was not consistent, and Harbor discontinued her services. In September 2019, mother went to the Zepf Center, and again received a mental health and substance abuse diagnosis. Mother did not consistently meet with the therapist, and as things began moving to video therapy with the onset of Covid-19, mother felt like the Zepf Center was not a good provider for her. Mother next went to Midwest Ohio Treatment center, and completed a dual diagnostic assessment in March 2020, which again resulted in a mental health and substance abuse diagnosis. Mother was discharged from Midwest Ohio Treatment in April 2020 due to

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non-compliance and needing a higher level of care. Mother next went to Arrowhead in April 2020, and was unsuccessfully discharged on May 26, 2020, due to noncompliance. Arrowhead referred mother back to the Zepf Center, and mother completed an intake there on June 1, 2020. Mother then relapsed and admitted to drinking alcohol and using cocaine. On September 15, 2020, mother went to Racing for Recovery in its partial hospitalization program. According to Stroble, mother did well in the in-patient portion of the program. However, mother began a new relationship with a man and no longer wanted to live in the housing situation at Racing for Recovery. Mother was unsuccessfully discharged from Racing for Recovery on November 19, 2020, for noncompliance and continued drug usage. Mother then went to UTMC for a detox program from January 25, 2021, through January 28, 2021. Mother next went to Brightview for treatment from February 2021 until approximately April 2021. Mother felt that Brightview was not intense enough for her, and went back to Arrowhead on May 24, 2021. Mother wanted to do the partial-hospitalization program at Arrowhead, but that did not work out. So mother chose Serenity Christian Counseling, and was receiving services there from July 28, 2021, until January 7, 2022, when she was discharged for noncompliance.

{¶ 11} As to the children, Stroble testified that L.H. and N.H. were originally placed with a maternal aunt, with the goal of awarding legal custody to the aunt. However, on the day of the disposition hearing, the aunt decided that she could no longer

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keep L.H. and N.H. because she already had a lot of children of her own and mother was causing additional stress by showing up for visits at unscheduled times, not being productive with her visits, texting the aunt late at night, and complaining about the aunt and the placement. The children were then moved to Arizona to be with a paternal aunt and uncle, with the hope of awarding legal custody. Six months after the placement, the aunt and uncle notified Stroble that they could no longer care for L.H. and N.H., and the children were placed in foster care. Upon returning from Arizona, the children were separated and placed with different families.

{¶ 12} Following the disruption of the placement with the paternal aunt and uncle, Stroble spoke with a different maternal aunt, the maternal grandfather, the paternal grandparents, and a friend of mother, but none of them were able to take care of L.H. and N.H. Late in the process, Stroble also spoke with two female friends of father. Stroble informed the two friends that because the agency had already made the determination to seek permanent custody, the friends would have to become licensed foster parents to express interest in adopting the children. At the time of the permanent custody hearing, one of the friends, "Kim," had engaged in and completed the foster parenting classes, but Stroble was unaware of where Kim was at as far as the rest of the process, including things like home studies, fingerprinting, and fire inspections.

{¶ 13} Stroble also testified regarding how the children were doing in their placements. Stroble testified that since the children were separated, the younger child,

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N.H. has flourished. N.H. has been placed with the same family that she was with prior to moving to Arizona so the caregivers are familiar to her. Stroble explained that not being with L.H. has allowed N.H. to develop her...

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