State ex rel. Leas in Interest of O'Neal, 64334

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtSCHULTZ
Citation303 N.W.2d 414
PartiesSTATE of Iowa ex rel. Helen LEAS in the Interest of Michelle Ilene O'NEAL, a child. Appeal of Michael O'NEAL and Tina O'Neal.
Docket NumberNo. 64334,64334
Decision Date18 March 1981

Philip F. Miller, Des Moines, for appellants.

Thomas J. Miller, Atty. Gen., and Brent D. Hege, Asst. Atty. Gen., Des Moines, for appellee.

Considered by HARRIS, P. J., and ALLBEE, McGIVERIN, LARSON, and SCHULTZ, JJ.

SCHULTZ, Justice.

Michael and Tina O'Neal appeal from a Polk Juvenile Court order terminating their parental rights with respect to their daughter, Michelle Ilene O'Neal. We affirm.

Michael and Tina are the natural parents of Michelle, the child in interest. Michelle, born on April 13, 1978, first came to the attention of the Polk Juvenile Court in June 1978 after the child had been taken to the emergency department of Blank Memorial Hospital because of a thrush condition, a fungal infection of the mouth most common in babies who are generally unhealthy and undernourished. The child was very dirty, pale, looked malnourished, and was experiencing problems with vomiting and diarrhea. On August 1, 1978, Michelle was adjudicated a child in need of assistance under chapter 232, The Code 1977, because she was without proper parental care and needed treatment, which her parents were unable to provide. The juvenile court placed Michelle in the custody of the Polk County Department of Social Services with instructions for the Department to implement a plan under which Michael and Tina could show their ability to provide proper parenting.

On April 6, 1979, after two attempts to arrive at an agreeable plan had failed and the O'Neals had allegedly failed to meet its expectations, the Department filed a petition to terminate parental rights pursuant to the provisions of chapter 600A, The Code 1977. We have reviewed the record de novo and find that the following evidence was presented at the termination hearing.

Michael and Tina were married to each other twice, the first time in an Indian ceremony when Tina was approximately thirteen years old. They have conceived five children. Michael was absent when the first four children were born. By his own admission he was too "wild" to settle down. He would see Tina approximately twice a year and did not provide financial support for the children other than by sending them money on their birthdays and at Christmas. He has not seen any of these children since 1963 and has no knowledge of their present whereabouts. Michael and Tina separated permanently in 1964 and remained so until they met by happenstance in Des Moines in January 1974.

During the interim Michael remarried twice and fathered four additional children. He does not know the names of these four children and could only guess as to their ages. There was also testimony that Tina remarried and was known as Tonya Levell. She had a son, James Lee Levell, born August 23, 1969. Shortly thereafter Tina was admitted to the Mental Health Institute at Clarinda and diagnosed as having a chronic brain syndrome with convulsive disorder, psychosis with epilepsy. Because Tina was unable, by reason of the mental condition, to provide necessary parental care and protection and the father had abandoned the family, parental rights were terminated by court order filed December 17, 1970. Tina subsequently was at Broadlawns General Hospital, Polk County Home, and Goodwill West, until she walked away from the latter facility on January 22, 1975. She was never apprehended. Tina controverted this testimony contending that Tonya was her identical twin sister. A handwriting analysis expert testified that signatures of Tonya Levell and Tina O'Neal were made by the same person, however, and three other witnesses described and identified Tina as Tonya Levell.

Testimony also revealed that Michael and Tina believed that Tina gave birth to four other children when Michelle was born, and that three had died and one was strangled. The testimony also revealed that they believed Broadlawns Hospital was involved in a conspiracy in which babies were taken out back of the hospital, killed, and placed in plastic bags. Another witness testified that Tina believed physicians at Broadlawns were operating a black-market baby ring. The witness also stated that Tina believed that she had twins when Michelle was born, that errors on the part of the medical staff caused strangulation of her infant son at birth, and that a cover-up prevented these facts from being disclosed to her.

The plan implemented pursuant to the order decreeing Michelle a child in need of assistance required the O'Neals to:

1) Establish and maintain an independent residence adequate for their needs and those of their infant daughter for at least a six-month period.

2) Obtain counseling for budget planning (provided by the Department of Social Service if so desired). The O'Neals maintain they do not require help in this area at the present time but will avail themselves of it in the future if they have need of it.

3) Investigate employment possibilities....

4) Demonstrate their interest in their daughter by maintaining weekly visitation.

Although the O'Neals originally accepted this plan, they subsequently rejected it objecting to the employment requirement. A second plan was then proposed, which was a variation of the initial plan. It incorporated a protective payee and provided for regular counseling for Michael and Tina. The revised plan was also rejected, apparently because the O'Neals objected to the protective payee provision.

The O'Neals reportedly experienced problems with rats and cockroaches in their residence, although there was some indication that this situation had subsided by the time of trial. There was also testimony that the O'Neals did not possess a refrigerator that was in working condition, and that they did not have an adequate food supply, although Tina testified that she had purchased approximately forty dollars worth of food for Michelle prior to the termination hearing. In addition, the O'Neals failed to keep sixteen of thirty-nine scheduled visits with Michelle.

Dr. Raymond E. Moore, a clinical psychologist, evaluated both Michael and Tina by psychological testing and interviewing pursuant to request by the Department of Social Services. Dr. Moore described Michael as being within the average range of intelligence but that he tended to endorse somewhat far out beliefs. He administered a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, a Rorschach inkblot test, a visual learning test, an auditory learning test, and a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory to Michael. Michael scored at the ninety-ninth percentile on the sociopathic scale, indicating that he is unsocialized, rebellious toward authority, and may lack inner controls and be careless and insensitive. He also scored at the ninety-ninth percentile on the hypocondriasis scale. People with such a score frequently use health as a cop-out to avoid the pressures and responsibilities of daily life. Michael scored at the fifth percentile on the Baron Ego Strength Scale indicating that he is unresourceful and may have difficulty overcoming obstacles that lie in the path of his goals. Finally, Michael scored at the ninety-ninth percentile on the paranoia scale, indicating that he tends to shift blame to other people, be negativistic, touchy to criticism, and may have delusions of persecution and other thinking disorders.

Dr. Moore testified that Michael's scores were more in line with those of psychiatric patients than normal people, and that the results of the interview were consistent with the test scores. For example, when questioned about his occupation Michael stated that he was disabled because of "bad news" in his back but was unable to explain this alleged malady. Dr. Moore also found Michael's thought process to be disordered and disorganized. For example, Michael stated that while some people told him he was thirty-four years old he knew this was not accurate because he had a daughter who was twenty-nine years old. In Dr. Moore's judgment Michael was in his early thirties. He concluded that although he had not observed Michael with Michelle, in his opinion Michael was not able to care for his own physical and mental needs and would not be able to adequately provide for the needs of an infant child.

Dr. Moore administered essentially the same tests to Tina that were administered to Michael. She was unable to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which requires a sixth grade educational level, however, because she had trouble recognizing the words. Dr. Moore found Tina to be slightly retarded, scoring in the seventh percentile on general intelligence for women her age. On the basis of an interview Dr. Moore found Tina to be mildly depressed and considerably agitated. It was Dr. Moore's opinion that both Michael and Tina needed psychological counseling.

Shahe Zenian, also a clinical psychologist, examined Tina pursuant to court order to determine whether she was mentally competent to assist her attorney in the termination proceeding. His report to the court stated that Tina impressed him "as an emotionally over-reactive individual with very poorly controlled hostility, much surface anger, possible delusional ideational processes, and borderline intelligence."

Kay Shapiro, social worker with the Department of Social Services' Foster Care Unit testified that the O'Neals' financial condition was very precarious that they frequently did not know where their next meal was coming from. A statement prepared by Ms. Shapiro and introduced into evidence indicated that the O'Neals had exhausted all possible sources of community welfare assistance, that their social security benefits had been cancelled, and that although the Veterans Administration had paid their rent for several months, restrictions had been placed on this aid, and it appeared that the O'Neals might be forced to...

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