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In re Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of D.B.M.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

November 3, 2014


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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APPEAL FROM THE ALLEN SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Charles F. Pratt, Judge, The Honorable Lori K. Morgan, Magistrate. Cause No. 02D08-1309-JT-103.


ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, Attorney General of Indiana, ROBERT J. HENKE, CHRISTINE REDELMAN, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

VAIDIK, Chief Judge. FRIEDLANDER, J., and MAY, J., concur.


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VAIDIK, Chief Judge

Case Summary

H.B.'s (" Father" ) rights to his son D.B.M. were terminated earlier this year. He now appeals, arguing that the testimony of an Allen County Department of Child Services (" ACDCS" ) supervisor should not have been admitted at the termination hearing. He contends that without this testimony, there is insufficient evidence to support the trial court's order terminating his parental rights. We conclude that any error in admitting this evidence was harmless, and even setting this evidence aside, there is sufficient evidence to support the termination order. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

D.M. (" Mother" ) gave birth to D.B.M. in July 2003.[1] ACDCS removed D.B.M. from Mother's care in January 2012, and D.B.M. was adjudicated a child in need of services (" CHINS" ) the following month. The trial court's CHINS order detailed the reasons for D.B.M.'s removal and CHINS status, including:

o Mother's previous involvement with DCS
o Mother's personality and intellectual disorders
o Mother's recent hospitalization for mental-health concerns
o D.B.M.'s frequent hospitalizations, which were based on Mother's unsubstantiated claims that someone was poisoning D.B.M.
o The use of Mother's home, where D.B.M. was living, for drug trafficking

Pet'rs Ex. 1. Father and Mother were not living together when D.B.M. was adjudicated a CHINS, and Father and D.B.M. had little to no contact with each other.

To facilitate reunification, the trial court ordered both parents to do a number of things, including refrain from criminal activity, maintain appropriate housing, cooperate and communicate with caseworkers, obtain a family-functioning assessment, and participate in services recommended by the family-functioning assessment. Father was also ordered to establish paternity.

Father failed to fully comply with the trial court's order, and in September 2013 ACDCS filed a petition to terminate his parental rights. The trial court held a hearing on the petition in March 2014. Father did not attend.

At the hearing, ACDCS supervisor Heather Rouns testified that although Father maintained contact with ACDCS for a time after the CHINS adjudication, he eventually stopped communicating with ACDCS altogether. Tr. p. 24. As a result, " from reviewing the file," Supervisor Rouns reported that ACDCS " has not had a valid address for him[] on a multitude of occasions . . . ." Id. at 25. She also testified that Father failed to notify ACDCS of any housing or employment changes. Id. at 26. At this point, Father's counsel objected, saying that Supervisor Rouns lacked " firsthand knowledge as to these matters and is in effect trying to bootstrap what would be the anticipated testimony of the family case manager, who is not with us . . . ." Id.

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Counsel was referring to family case manager Marquitta Byers (" FCM Byers" ), who was on maternity leave.

Counsel for ACDCS established, through additional questioning, that Supervisor Rouns had personal knowledge of the case. See id. at 27-36. Father's counsel then clarified that his objection was actually that Supervisor Rouns' testimony was hearsay. Id. at 36. In response, ACDCS's counsel argued that DCS employees routinely rely on hearsay when monitoring parents, such as " service-provider reports, letters, all of that information, [and] that's all hearsay. It's acceptable hearsay because it's part of their job." Id. at 37. The trial court overruled Father's objection. Id. at 38. Supervisor Rouns went on to testify that Father had failed to comply with the trial court's order to participate in services recommended by the family-functioning assessment and had not exercised any parenting time with D.B.M. throughout the case. Id. at 39-55. She also testified that D.B.M. was thriving in his foster-care placement. Id. at 46-48.

Family case manager Brianna Norris (" FCM Norris" ), who replaced FCM Byers, also testified that Father had not complied with the trial court's order: " he [did] not complete[] recommended services and [did] not visit[] with D.B.M." Id. at 55. FCM Norris likewise told the court that D.B.M. was flourishing in his current foster-care placement. Id. at 54. Beth Webber, the guardian ad litem (" GAL" ) assigned to the case, summarized Father's lack of involvement in the case and D.B.M.'s life:

[D.B.M.] hasn't had contact with [Father]. [F]ather came to a couple of the first court hearings, but [he] hasn't been involved for the pendency of this case. He[] initially had some telephone contact, but has basically fallen off the face of the earth and we haven't always known where he has been. He hasn't shown interest by visiting. He hasn't shown interest by maintaining contact with [ACDCS] or trying to maintain ...

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