In re S.G.-1, 22-0040

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
PartiesIn re S.G.-1
Decision Date12 May 2022
Docket Number22-0040

In re S.G.-1

No. 22-0040

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

May 12, 2022


(Wyoming County 20-JA-39)

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioner Father S.G.-2, by counsel Lela Walker, appeals the Circuit Court of Wyoming County's December 14, 2021, order terminating his parental rights to S.G.-2.[1] The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources ("DHHR"), by counsel Patrick Morrisey and Andrew Waight, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order. The guardian ad litem, Latachia Miller, filed a response on behalf of the child in support of the circuit court's order. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in terminating his parental rights because it did not comply with Rule 27 of the West Virginia Rules of Procedure for Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings.

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 standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

The proceedings began in July of 2020 when the DHHR filed a petition alleging that the child's mother and another adult respondent abused and neglected the child due to substance abuse. At that time, the DHHR named petitioner as a respondent to the proceedings but did not include allegations against him. After several continuances, the court held a preliminary hearing which petitioner did not attend, although he was represented by counsel.

1

In July of 2021, the DHHR filed an amended petition alleging that petitioner abandoned the child. According to the amended petition, the child had been in the DHHR's custody for approximately one year, and petitioner had not appeared at any hearings. Further, the DHHR alleged that petitioner contacted the DHHR only once while the child was in their custody. According to the DHHR, petitioner requested visits with the child in December of 2020, but when the service provider attempted to contact petitioner at the number he provided, petitioner did not respond. The record shows that following the filing of the amended petition, petitioner's counsel was granted at least two continuances of the preliminary hearing because petitioner was not present.

The matter came on for an adjudicatory hearing in October of 2021. Petitioner again was not present, but was represented by counsel. A Child Protective Services ("CPS") worker testified that petitioner had not had any involvement with the child since the original petition was filed and confirmed that petitioner contacted the DHHR only once to request visitation with the child but failed to remain in contact with the DHHR after visits were arranged. The CPS worker also confirmed that petitioner had not provided the child with any support during this period or otherwise attempted to fulfill any of his parental duties. The CPS worker also explained that while these proceedings were pending, petitioner was involved in another CPS case related to different children who are not at issue in this appeal. According to the CPS worker, despite petitioner having contact with CPS in regard to that prior investigation, "he did not once ask about" S.G.-1. Based on the evidence, the circuit court found, on the record, as follows: "Clearly the evidence establishes by clear and convincing evidence that [petitioner] has provided no contact or support and no bond with the child, and as such has abandoned [the child]." It is undisputed that no adjudicatory order was entered following this hearing.[2]

In November of 2021, petitioner appeared for the dispositional hearing, marking his first appearance in the matter. The DHHR presented testimony from a CPS worker. Ultimately, the court found that petitioner's conduct demonstrated that there was no reasonable likelihood that the conditions of abuse and neglect could be substantially corrected in the near future and that the child's welfare required termination of petitioner's parental rights. Accordingly, the court terminated petitioner's parental rights.[3]...

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