People ex rel. A.J.L., 09SC1036.

Citation243 P.3d 244
Case DateDecember 20, 2010
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado
243 P.3d 244

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner,
In the INTEREST OF Minor Children A.J.L., aka A.J.C.; A.K.M.H.; and Q.D.J.W.;
Concerning A.P.L., Respondent.

No. 09SC1036.

Supreme Court of Colorado,
En Banc.

Nov. 30, 2010.
Rehearing Denied Dec. 20, 2010.*

243 P.3d 246

Robert W. Loeffler, Clear Creek County Attorney, Sue S. Thibault, Assistant Clear Creek County Attorney, Georgetown, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioner.

Judith J. Carlson, Frisco, Colorado, Attorney for Respondent.

Anne E. Parmley, P.C., Anne E. Parmley, Breckenridge, Colorado, Guardian Ad Litem.

Justice HOBBS delivered the Opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in People in the Interest of A.J.L., No. 09CA0787, 2009 WL 4173713 (Colo.App., November 25, 2009), to determine whether the court of appeals applied the proper standard of review in reversing the trial court's decision to terminate the parent-child legal relationship between A.P.L. ("mother") and children A.K.M.H. ("daughter") and Q.D.J.W. ("son"). 1

Pursuant to section 19-3-604(1)(c), C.R.S. (2010), the trial court found and concluded mother had not reasonably complied with her court-approved treatment plan, that she was unfit, and that her conduct or condition was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. Based on these findings and conclusions, it terminated the parent-child legal relationship between mother and her minor children, daughter and son. The court of appeals reversed, concluding the People failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that mother is unfit and cannot become fit within a reasonable time.

We hold that the court of appeals did not properly apply the clearly erroneous standard of review to the trial court's findings. Ample evidence exists in the record supporting the trial court's findings and its legal conclusion that mother is unfit to parent son and daughter and her conduct or condition is unlikely to change within a reasonable time. We agree and uphold the trial court's order terminating the parent-child relationship.


Daughter and son have different fathers. Daughter was born to mother in January 2002, and the parent-child legal relationship between daughter and her father was subsequently terminated. In December 2005, son was born to C.W. and mother. C.W.'s parental rights to son were terminated by the trial court on an unopposed motion for summary judgment.

The trial court found that C.W. and mother both have a history of domestic violence, substance abuse, and of physically abusing and neglecting their children. Prior to moving to Colorado, mother was involved with state social services agencies in Washington and Idaho due to abuse and neglect of her children. C.W. has an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Colorado and reports an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Nevada. At the time of trial Mother and C.W. were still in a relationship and lived together in Montana. They had another child together since moving to Montana. That child is not a subject of this proceeding.

The trial court found that Clear Creek County Department of Human Services ("CCDHS") became involved with the family beginning in September 2005, following a domestic violence incident. In November 2005, mother was charged with child abuse in Clear Creek County for beating her oldest child.2 CCDHS offered individual and family counseling, but mother did not comply.

In September 2006, multiple witnesses saw mother kick her oldest child and lock him out of the house. Following that incident, CCDHS wrote a letter to mother, requesting that she submit to random urinalysis testing and participate in a drug and alcohol evaluation and family counseling. Mother did not respond to these requests, and the People filed a petition in dependency and neglect on October 24, 2006.

243 P.3d 247

The People filed a stipulated motion for continued adjudication in January 2007, and the trial court entered an order continuing adjudication so long as mother and C.W. successfully completed the treatment plan agreed to by the parties. The treatment plan required Mother to: financially support her children, provide copies of her children's social security cards and birth certificates, stay clean and sober, complete a drug and alcohol evaluation, provide the names and addresses of relatives for the children, stay informed of the case, stay violence free, be mentally healthy, attend to her children's medical and mental health needs, and be able to parent her children.

The trial court found that mother and C.W. failed to comply with the treatment plan. In February 2007, mother tested positive for methamphetamines. On March 13, 2007, mother was discharged from outpatient drug treatment for failing to attend therapy and for failing to comply with her treatment plan. The People filed a motion for adjudication in dependency and neglect, claiming that mother and C.W. failed to comply with the treatment plan in several ways. Son, daughter, and mother's oldest child were ordered into temporary protective custody.3

On March 28, 2007, the trial court entered an order and decree of adjudication, finding mother and C.W. in violation of the terms and conditions of the stipulated motion for continued adjudication, and ordering daughter, son, C.W.'s daughter T.M.W., and mother's oldest son be adjudicated dependent and neglected. The trial court also ordered mother to complete the Salvation Army's six-month inpatient drug rehabilitation program, and ordered C.W. and mother to comply with the treatment plan.

Mother and C.W. continued to fail to comply with the treatment plan. Mother did not consistently submit to random urinalysis tests, did not consistently make phone calls to her oldest son, did not consistently attend substance abuse treatment, did not participate in required feedback sessions following therapeutic visits with her children, and failed to enter the six-month inpatient drug treatment program. In May 2007, mother and C.W. moved to Montana, against the advice of the CCDHS treatment team. Mother stated she wanted to move to Montana to get away from C.W. and because she did not trust the CCDHS treatment team.

The trial court found mother deceived CCDHS regarding her relationship with C.W. Mother initially denied that she had contact with C.W. after her arrival in Montana. However, a letter from one of mother's Montana treatment providers to the CCDHS treatment team in June 2007 reported that C.W. followed mother to Montana. The letter referred to C.W. as mother's "significant other." In September 2007, the CCDHS treatment team asked mother where they could find C.W. in order to provide him information on the case, and mother denied having any knowledge of his location.

The trial court found that mother knew of the CCDHS treatment team's concern regarding her relationship with C.W., and that she deceived the treatment team regarding that relationship. In September or October 2007, mother admitted to the CCDHS caseworker that she and C.W. lived together. The caseworker testified that throughout the entire case, the team expressed concern about her relationship with C.W. because of his general lack of participation and failure to complete an interactional evaluation with son. In response, mother told the treatment team she was separated from C.W. and that she would seek a restraining order to prevent him from contacting her children. After CCDHS filed motions for termination in the case in September 2008, it hired a private investigator to locate C.W. The investigator discovered C.W. lived with mother and that they had signed a lease together.

The trial court found that C.W. refused to engage in the treatment plan, disobeyed the court's orders in his criminal case, violated the terms and conditions of his probation, has an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Colorado, and failed to contest the People's motion to terminate his parental rights to son. The trial court found unbelievable mother's assertion that she would end her relationship with C.W. if the children were

243 P.3d 248
returned to her. It found that a home including C.W. would not be a safe and stable home for the children.

Upon arrival in Montana, mother contacted South West Chemical Dependency ("SWCD") and entered an outpatient substance abuse program. The trial court found that she deceived the SWCD providers by failing to inform them she was court-ordered to enter inpatient treatment. The trial court acknowledged that she successfully completed substance abuse treatment at SWCD, has been clean and sober since June 2007, and SWCD providers reported she is a role model and leader for others in treatment.

The trial court's treatment plan had required mother to submit to a psychological evaluation. The practitioner who performed the evaluation testified as an expert in psychology at the trial. Based on her evaluation, the psychologist diagnosed mother with post traumatic stress disorder, cyclothymia, histrionic personality disorder with borderline narcissistic features, and poly-substance abuse. She recommended mother receive individual therapy for eighteen months to two years, family therapy, and substance abuse treatment. She also testified that mother was dishonest and minimized her problems. Due to these issues, her evaluation warned that mother would likely engage in "splitting," where she provided accurate information to some, but not others. She testified that mother's tendency to lie and withhold information means that treatment providers working with mother should not rely solely on her self-reporting. Finally, she testified that mother's continued dishonesty suggests mother has not addressed the mental health issues identified in the evaluation. Mother completed this evaluation in January 2007, and the psychologist testified that nothing she had since reviewed indicated mother was now capable of being a better parent to son and daughter.

In September 2007, a certified psychiatric nurse specialist completed an...

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