Interest Of L.T., No. 18-1375

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtAPPEL, Justice.
Citation924 N.W.2d 521
Docket NumberNo. 18-1375
Decision Date01 March 2019
Parties In the INTEREST OF L.T., A.T., and D.T., Minor Children, K.T., Mother, Appellant.

924 N.W.2d 521

In the INTEREST OF L.T., A.T., and D.T., Minor Children,

K.T., Mother, Appellant.

No. 18-1375

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Filed March 1, 2019


Ellen R. Ramsey-Kacena, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, John McCormally, (until withdrawal) and Anagha Dixit, Assistant Attorneys General, Jerry Vander Sanden, County Attorney, and Kelly Kaufman, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee State.

Kimberly A. Opatz of Linn County Advocate, Inc., Cedar Rapids, guardian ad litem for minor children.

APPEL, Justice.

In this case, we consider a mother’s appeal from the juvenile court’s final order terminating her parental rights to L.T., A.T., and D.T. entered twenty months after the evidentiary hearing on the issue. Approximately six months after the evidentiary hearing, the juvenile court granted the State’s motion to reopen the record and present additional evidence in support of its petition to terminate parental rights.

924 N.W.2d 523

After receipt of the new evidence, the juvenile court orally stated its intent to terminate parental rights but did not enter a written ruling at that time.

Shortly after the juvenile court’s oral announcement, reasonable efforts toward reunification ceased. A few months later, the mother requested, at a hearing and by motion, reasonable efforts toward reunification pending the juvenile court’s final order.

When more than nineteen months passed from the original hearing without the juvenile court entering a written ruling, the mother moved to reopen the evidence. The mother sought to show that she was sober, was involved in an outpatient program to maintain sobriety, and had obtained stable housing and employment.

Almost a month after the mother’s motion to reopen the evidence, the juvenile court entered a written order terminating the mother’s parental rights. On the same day, the court entered another order denying the mother’s motions.

The mother appeals. She challenges the termination order as unlawful. She asserts that the juvenile court abused its discretion by declining to allow her the opportunity to present additional evidence after the passage of nineteen months from the initial termination hearing. The mother also asserts that she was entitled to reasonable efforts toward reunification with her children until the entry of a final written order of termination.

We transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals expressed displeasure over the delay in the filing of a timely order but nonetheless affirmed the ruling of the juvenile court. We granted further review. We now vacate the decision of the court of appeals, reverse the order of the juvenile court, and remand the case to the juvenile court for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

There are three children that are the subject of this case—L.T., A.T., and D.T. D.T., the youngest child, was born in May 2015.

At birth, D.T. tested positive for amphetamines. The mother was found responsible for child abuse arising from this incident.

In June 2015, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) received results of a hair test from the mother. She tested positive for amphetamines. At a hearing on June 23, the mother stipulated that the children were children in need of assistance. Based on the stipulation, the court adjudicated the three children as children in need of assistance. During a dispositional hearing the next month, the parties stipulated that the children should remain in their parents’ custody with DHS supervision. The court ordered a permanency plan be submitted that would state that the permanency goal is to maintain the children in their parents’ custody.

Use of methamphetamines by the parents in August and September of that year led to the children’s emergency removal from the home. The juvenile court placed custody of the children with DHS for purposes of placement in foster care.1 The court also ordered a permanency plan stating that the permanency goal is reunification with the father.

In January and May of 2016, the juvenile court entered periodic mandatory review orders. In these orders the court

924 N.W.2d 524

stated that "the permanency goal at this time is family reunification." The order also found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to achieve permanency and recited a litany of services that had been provided, including, but not limited to, parental instruction and counseling; substance abuse help; mental health treatment; medication management; housing referrals; and family safety, risk, and permanency services. In the May order, the court noted that it was informed the State would file a petition to terminate parental rights and directed the State to do the same.

In June, the State petitioned for termination of the parents’ parental rights. The petition relied on four different statutory grounds for termination2 and an affidavit from a DHS social worker.

A couple months later, in September, the court entered another permanency review order. This order stated that "the permanency goal at this time is reunification with a concurrent goal of termination of parental rights and adoption." The court again found that DHS was making reasonable efforts to achieve permanency and noted that a hearing was scheduled on the State’s petition to terminate parental rights.

The juvenile court held a hearing on the State’s petition to terminate parental rights in November. At the termination hearing, the mother admitted that she used methamphetamine the week before trial and acknowledged that she "absolutely" needed residential treatment. The mother testified she recognized the need "to be away" in a "structured environment" to maintain her sobriety, something that she could not do by herself.

In January 2017, the juvenile court held a permanency review hearing. At the hearing, the juvenile court learned the mother had been in a residential treatment program, had left the program, but hoped to get back into a residential program. Afterward, the court entered a permanency review order instructing that prior orders should continue and noting that its ruling on the petition to terminate parental rights remained pending. In addition, the court again found DHS was making reasonable efforts to achieve permanency and recited a list of services provided to the parents and children.

In a permanency review order signed on May 18, 2017, the juvenile court noted that the parents still struggled with drug abuse and that they did not have stable housing but were living with a relative. The juvenile court noted that a further hearing on the petition for termination of parental rights was scheduled for the following week. The court again directed that prior orders should continue and, noting the list of services provided to the parents and children, found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to achieve permanency.

On May 23, the juvenile court reopened the record of the termination hearing at the State’s request. The State offered the most recent progress reports and the guardian ad litem’s report. The mother also testified, asserting that she had been approved for subsidized housing, was unemployed but started work cleaning apartments, and was participating in mental health treatments. The mother admitted, however, that she relapsed in February and April and did not appear for a drug screen in May.

At the close of the May 23 hearing, the juvenile court declared the termination matter resubmitted. The juvenile court told the parties, "I regret that my schedule

924 N.W.2d 525

doesn’t really allow me any time during the course of a workday to write rulings." The juvenile court stated, however, "I want to relay to you that I’m going to grant the State’s petition for termination of parental rights." The juvenile court recognized the parental love for the children, but declared,

The problem is, neither you [n]or [the father] have really been able to gain control of your addiction issues, and your substance abuse issues, and, that, combined with mental health issues is the primary reason that your children cannot be safely returned to your care.... The children have waited long enough that it’s in their best interest to have permanency. So I will grant the State’s petition and order that they be made available for adoption.... [T]heir needs have to be considered separately from yours and [the father’s], and their needs require permanency, safety and stability, and I can’t say that that is going to happen by return of custody to you or to their father now or anytime in the recently near future without them continuing to be at risk of harm and requiring adjudication.

Still, time passed without the entry of a written order. In a permanency review order dated September 21, 2017, the juvenile court stated, "The Court has provided verbal order granting the State’s Petition for Termination of Parental Rights and placing custody and guardianship with the Department of Human Services. Written order remains pending." The court again directed that prior orders continue and noted that DHS had made reasonable efforts to achieve permanency. This time, the court recited only foster family...

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58 practice notes
  • In re W.T., 21-0540
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 3, 2021
    ...has met those requirements, and we proceed to consider his appeal. 12 III. We review termination of parental rights de novo. In re L.T., 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019); In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016). We are not bound by the factual findings of the juvenile court, but we give ......
  • In re Interest of A.H., No. 20-0654
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • July 22, 2020
    ...we give them weight, particularly with regard to credibility. Id. Our primary concern is the best interests of the children. In re L.T. , 924 N.W.2d 521, 529 (Iowa 2019). Review of the parents’ constitutional claim is also de novo. In re C.M. , 652 N.W.2d 204, 209 (Iowa 2002). And we review......
  • In re Interest of G.B., No. 19-1176
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • September 11, 2019
    ...noted, the mother appeals.II. Standard of ReviewAppellate review of termination-of-parental-rights proceedings is de novo. In re L.T. , 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019). Our primary consideration is the best interests of the child, In re J.E. , 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006), the defining e......
  • In re Interest of C.B., No. 20-1640
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • February 17, 2021
    ...(quoting In re M.D. , 921 N.W.2d 229, 232 (Iowa 2018) ). Appellate review of orders terminating parental rights is de novo. In re L.T. , 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019). Our primary consideration is the best interests of the child, In re J.E. , 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006), the defining ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
58 cases
  • In re W.T., 21-0540
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 3, 2021
    ...has met those requirements, and we proceed to consider his appeal. 12 III. We review termination of parental rights de novo. In re L.T., 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019); In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016). We are not bound by the factual findings of the juvenile court, but we give ......
  • In re Interest of A.H., No. 20-0654
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • July 22, 2020
    ...we give them weight, particularly with regard to credibility. Id. Our primary concern is the best interests of the children. In re L.T. , 924 N.W.2d 521, 529 (Iowa 2019). Review of the parents’ constitutional claim is also de novo. In re C.M. , 652 N.W.2d 204, 209 (Iowa 2002). And we review......
  • In re Interest of G.B., No. 19-1176
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • September 11, 2019
    ...noted, the mother appeals.II. Standard of ReviewAppellate review of termination-of-parental-rights proceedings is de novo. In re L.T. , 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019). Our primary consideration is the best interests of the child, In re J.E. , 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006), the defining e......
  • In re Interest of C.B., No. 20-1640
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Iowa
    • February 17, 2021
    ...(quoting In re M.D. , 921 N.W.2d 229, 232 (Iowa 2018) ). Appellate review of orders terminating parental rights is de novo. In re L.T. , 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019). Our primary consideration is the best interests of the child, In re J.E. , 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006), the defining ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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