In re D.N.
Case No. 20160772-CA
2016 UT App 244
On December 22, 2016, the Utah Court of Appeals case issued its decision in the case of In re D.N. What follows is a summary of the arguments and the court’s decision. A link to the entire appellate decision can be found here: https://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/appopin/In%20re%20D.N.20161222.pdf
In this case a Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights. The Court of Appeals affirmed the juvenile court’s decision.
In order to overturn the juvenile court’s decision to terminate a person’s parental rights, the result must be against the clear weight of the evidence or leave the appellate court with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made. (In re B.R., 2007 UT 82, ‘1 12, 171 P.3d 435 (citation omitted)). The appellate court reviews the juvenile court’s factual findings based upon the clearly erroneous standard. (In re E.R., 2001 UT App 66, ¶ 11, 21 P.3d 680). A finding of fact is clearly erroneous only when, in light of the evidence supporting the finding, it is against the clear weight of the evidence. (See id.) Further, the appellate courts give the juvenile court a wide latitude of discretion as to the judgments arrived at based upon not only the court’s opportunity to judge credibility firsthand, but also based on the juvenile court judges’ special training, experience and interest in this field. (Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). Finally, when a foundation for the court’s decision exists in the evidence, an appellate court may not engage in a reweighing of the evidence. (In re B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12)
Mother argued that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate grounds supporting termination of her parental rights. The juvenile court based its termination decision on several grounds, including failure of parental adjustment. (See Utah Code § 78A-6-507(1)(e))
Here, the children were removed from Mother’s care primarily due to her drug use. In an effort to effectuate the service plan designed to reunite Mother with her children, the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) assisted in placing Mother into long term residential drug treatment. However, while Mother was still in treatment, she tested positive for amphetamines and admitted that she had used methamphetamine while in treatment. She also admitted to caring for her children while under the influence of methamphetamine. Despite the failed test, Mother was given the option to remain in the rehabilitation program, but she refused and left the program. After that point she failed to submit to random drug tests.
Further, the father of the children wrote a letter to DCFS explaining that Mother had been spending time with him every time she obtained a pass from the treatment facility, despite rules against it. He also expressed concern about Mother taking care of the children because she had informed him that it was her intent to return to her drug use soon after finishing her treatment. The evidence presented to the juvenile court demonstrated that Mother was either unable or unwilling to substantially correct the circumstances, conduct, or conditions that led to the placement of her children outside her home. See id. § 78A-6-502(2). Accordingly, there was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court’s determination that there was a failure of parental adjustment.
The evidence also supported the juvenile court’s determination that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother had a continuing battle with drug use that rendered her unable to adequately care for her children. Additionally, and at the time of trial Mother did not have stable housing or the financial means to support the children. At the same time, the children’s foster parents wished to adopt them. The foster parents met all of the financial and emotional needs of the children, and the foster parents provided stability for the children that Mother was incapable of offering. Thus, evidence in the record supported the juvenile court’s determination that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate Mother’s parental rights.
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