A.M.H., In Interest of

Decision Date25 May 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-1172,93-1172
Citation516 N.W.2d 867
PartiesIn the Interest of A.M.H., A Minor Child, T.H.H., Mother, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

John L. Sandy of Sandy Law Firm, Spirit Lake, for appellant.

Bonnie J. Campbell, Atty. Gen., John M. Parmeter, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Charles K Phillips, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Julie Fillenwarth, Asst. County Atty., for appellee State.

David Forsyth of Forsyth Law Office, Estherville, for minor child.



The district court, sitting as juvenile court, found A.M.H. a child in need of assistance (CINA) following an adjudicatory hearing. The court placed A.M.H. in the temporary care and custody of the child's maternal grandparents and under the protective supervision of the Department of Human Services (DHS). Later the court issued an ex parte order for removal of the child from the maternal grandparents. Following a hearing this order was confirmed by the court and temporary custody was transferred to DHS for placement in foster care until the dispositional hearing. The court continued the legal custody of A.M.H. with DHS for placement in foster care following the dispositional hearing.

The mother of the child appealed the adjudicatory, removal, and dispositional orders. On review, we affirm.

I. Background.

A.M.H. was born on July 17, 1992. Approximately three weeks after the birth of A.M.H. her nineteen-year-old unmarried mother, Tanya, attempted to transfer custody of her child to her parents, Robert and Deanna. She had an attorney prepare a written "transfer of custody" which anticipated her parents would transfer custody of the child back to her at some time in the future. The father of the child was unknown.

On September 8 the assistant county attorney filed a CINA petition. Iowa Code § 232.87 (1991). The petition alleged that A.M.H. was a child in need of assistance as defined in Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(b) and (k).

On October 15 District Associate Judge W.B. MacDonald conducted an adjudicatory hearing on the CINA petition. See id. § 232.96. A guardian ad litem was appointed by the court to appear for the child. Id. § 232.89(2). Also present at the hearing was the child's mother, her attorney, the maternal grandparents and their attorney. The court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that "the mother does, for good cause, desire to be relieved of the child's care and custody." The court entered an order adjudicating A.M.H. a child in need of assistance pursuant to subsection 232.2(6)(k) and custody of the child was placed with the maternal grandparents under the protective supervision of DHS. The court ordered an alcohol, drug, and psychological evaluation of Tanya, a psychological evaluation of the maternal grandparents, a home study, and set a date for the dispositional hearing.

Before a dispositional hearing took place, the assistant county attorney submitted a request to the juvenile court for an ex parte order to retain A.M.H. in shelter care and an application for a hearing on the removal of the child from the grandparents' home. The application gave the following reason for the order: "The child desires to be placed in shelter care. The child's attorney and guardian ad litem makes the request." Id. § 232.21(1)(b). District Associate Judge Cameron B. Arnold issued an ex parte order placing temporary care, custody, and control of A.M.H. with DHS. On the following day, March 18, 1993, Judge Arnold conducted a removal hearing. The guardian ad litem testified that he had requested removal after receiving a copy of the DHS dispositional and comprehensive assessment reports which included psychological evaluations of the grandparents and the home study. The reports were identified as exhibits and admitted into evidence without objection.

Following the hearing the court entered a written order which found that

continuation of residence in the home of the grandparents is contrary to the child's welfare, and that placement is in the child's best interests and that reasonable efforts were made to prevent removal from the home, and that it is not appropriate to prevent removal.

The court transferred temporary custody of A.M.H. to DHS for placement in foster care pending the dispositional hearing.

On May 10 and 11 Alternate District Associate Judge Joseph L. Hanson conducted a dispositional hearing. Id. § 232.99. On July 8 the court entered a dispositional order continuing custody with DHS. The court stated the hearing was handled informally and that "all parties agree with the recommendation that probation supervision should continue without modification." The court did not make and file written findings as to the reason for the disposition nor did the court make any findings that the disposition was the least restrictive disposition under the circumstances. Id. § 232.99(4).

Tanya appealed the dispositional order entered on July 8, 1993, the removal order entered on March 8, and the adjudicatory order entered on October 19, 1992. On appeal she urges her due process rights were violated and that the dispositional order and removal order failed to comply with statutory requirements.

Our review of CINA proceedings is de novo. In re Long, 313 N.W.2d 473, 482 (Iowa 1981). We review "both the facts and the law, and we adjudicate rights anew." In re T.A.L., 505 N.W.2d 480, 482 (Iowa 1993). "Although we give weight to the factual determinations of the juvenile court, especially when considering the credibility of witnesses, we are not bound by them." Id.

II. Due Process.

Both the Bill of Rights and the Iowa Constitution provide no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. U.S. Const. amends. V, XIV; Iowa Const. art. I, § 9. "[F]reedom of personal choice in matters of family life is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment." Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 1394, 71 L.Ed.2d 599, 606 (1982). The right of a parent to companionship, care, custody, and management of his or her children has been recognized as "far more precious ... than property rights ...," May v. Anderson, 345 U.S. 528, 533, 73 S.Ct. 840, 843, 97 L.Ed. 1221, 1226 (1953), and more significant and priceless than "liberties which derive merely from shifting economic arrangements." Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 1212, 31 L.Ed.2d 551, 558 (1972). "It is not disputed that state intervention to terminate the relationship between [a parent] and [the] child must be accomplished by procedures meeting the requisites of the Due Process Clause." Lassiter v. Department of Social Servs., 452 U.S. 18, 37, 101 S.Ct. 2153, 2165, 68 L.Ed.2d 640, 656 (1981) (Blackmun, J., dissenting). A parent's interest in maintaining family integrity is best protected by the Due Process Clause. Alsager v. District Court of Polk County, 406 F.Supp. 10, 22 (S.D.Iowa 1975), aff'd in part, 545 F.2d 1137 (8th Cir.1976). "[D]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands." Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 2600, 33 L.Ed.2d 484, 494 (1972).

Conceding a natural parent has due process rights at parental termination proceedings and that a natural parent would also have due process rights relating to a CINA proceeding, our next consideration is "what process is due" in this particular context. Generally, the fundamental requirement of due process is an opportunity to be heard. Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 267, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 1020, 25 L.Ed.2d 287, 299 (1970). This may include a right to notice of the hearing, to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, to be represented by counsel, to an impartial decision maker, and to a decision based solely on legal rules and the evidence presented at the hearing. Id. at 268-72, 90 S.Ct. at 1020-22, 25 L.Ed.2d at 299-301. To demonstrate compliance with the last requirement, "the decision maker should state the reasons for his determination and indicate the evidence he relied on." Id. at 271, 90 S.Ct. at 1022, 25 L.Ed.2d at 301.

We recognize that the nature of the process due in parental rights termination proceedings turns on a balancing of three factors: "[T]he private interests at stake, the government's interest, and the risk that the procedures used will lead to erroneous decisions." Lassiter, 452 U.S. at 27, 101 S.Ct. at 2159, 68 L.Ed.2d at 649; see also In re K.L.C., 372 N.W.2d 223, 226 (Iowa 1985). When considering the private interests at stake, we are mindful that this is not an appeal from a termination of the parent-child relationship. See Iowa Code §§ 232.111-.117. Although a CINA proceeding may be the first step toward the termination of fundamental parental rights, "we refuse to equate the consequences of a CINA proceeding with those of parental termination." In re L.K.S., 451 N.W.2d 819, 822 (Iowa 1990). We recognize "the State has a duty to assure that every child within its borders receives proper care and treatment, and must intercede when parents fail to provide it." In re I.L.G.R., 433 N.W.2d 681, 689 (Iowa 1988). As for the procedure required, "[o]ur statutory scheme for protecting the rights of natural parents in termination proceedings was carefully crafted as a legislative response to federal court decisions which held our prior parental termination statutes unconstitutional." In re A.C., 415 N.W.2d 609, 613 (Iowa 1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 1008, 108 S.Ct. 1474, 99 L.Ed.2d 702 (1988). The CINA procedures are part of this statutory scheme.

Clearly, we have a duty to enforce the procedural safeguards contained in Iowa Code chapter 232. Both DHS and the juvenile court have the important function of protecting children who are in need of assistance. However, taking a child away from the care and custody of a parent is of serious consequence. We therefore must carefully observe...

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