In Re: The Matter of D.J. and G.J., Children In Need of Services;
Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee. Gr.J. (Mother) and J.J. (Father) Appellants,
from the Allen Superior Court, Nos. 02D08-1507-JC-324 and
02D08-1507-JC-325 The Honorable Charles F. Pratt, Judge The
Honorable Lori K. Morgan, Magistrate
Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT GR.J. (MOTHER) Roberta L. Renbarger
Renbarger Law Firm Fort Wayne, Indiana.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT J.J. (FATHER) Gregory L. Fumarolo Fort
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES
Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana, Robert J.
Henke James D. Boyer Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis,
previously held that a tardy notice of appeal forfeits the
aggrieved party's right to appeal, but does not deprive a
reviewing court of jurisdiction to hear the appeal. Today, we
hold that a premature notice of appeal likewise is not fatal
to appellate jurisdiction. The two prerequisites for invoking
appellate jurisdiction were both present here-an appealable
trial-court order and entry of the notice of completion of
clerk's record in the chronological case summary.
trial court found that Parents' two minor children were
"in need of services"-meaning they had been abused
or neglected at home and were unlikely to receive the care or
treatment they needed without a court's coercive
intervention. A child-in-need-of-services (CHINS)
determination is not a final judgment. Finality does not
occur until the court, after a dispositional hearing,
resolves such questions as what specific services are
warranted and whether the child should be placed in an
alternative living arrangement, either provisionally or
permanently. Although the CHINS determination was not final,
Parents filed notices of appeal challenging only this
interlocutory ruling and not the court's later
dispositional order. The Court of Appeals concluded that it
lacked jurisdiction and dismissed Parents' appeal. We do
not take issue with the Court's decision to dismiss the
appeal; it is never error to dismiss a forfeited appeal. The
Court's only error was its stated reason for
dismissal-lack of jurisdiction.
Parents' forfeited appeal, we exercise our discretion to
decide their case on its merits. Having previously granted
transfer in this CHINS matter, we reverse the trial court.
The record does not support the court's finding that
Parents needed the court's coercive intervention to
provide for their Boys' needs at the time of the
and Procedural History
and J.J. (Parents) have two young sons, D.J. and G.J. (Boys).
On the evening of July 16, 2015, Gr.J. (Mother) was bathing
the Boys in their home's upstairs bathroom. D.J. was four
years old at the time; G.J. was fourteen months. At some
point, Mother left them alone in the bathtub for
approximately two minutes while she went downstairs to let
out the family's dog. When she returned, she found the
younger son, G.J., lying face down in the water and
immediately "grabbed him out." Mother flipped him
over to allow any remaining water to drain from his body and
saw "his back was super pale". She carried him to
the bedroom and called 9-1-1.
waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Mother laid G.J. on the
family's bed and attempted "CPR like activity".
Although he "wasn't breathing easily or well by any
means", he did begin gurgling. As Mother tried to
resuscitate him, he defecated on himself. When emergency
medical technicians arrived, they cleaned him with a towel
and transported him to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne.
early-morning hours of July 17, Detective Renee Davis of the
Fort Wayne Police Department and Joseph Sims, a family case
worker with the Indiana Department of Child Services
(Department), obtained Parents' consent to inspect the
family home. Upon entering the house, Sims "almost
gagged on the smell of feces and animal feces and
urine." He said the smell "smack[ed] you in the
face when you walk[ed] in the front door." Likewise,
Detective Davis noted, "there was an overwhelming odor
when I walked in the house . . . probably an animal
definitely urinating." Detective Davis said the odor
"made [her] cough" and "kicked [her] asthma
up." Sims and Detective Davis also said the house
"was in complete disarray" and "very
cluttered" with "stuff everywhere."
the home inspection, Sims noticed it had no beds for the
Boys-no crib for G.J. and no toddler bed for D.J. When asked
about the family's sleeping arrangements, J.J. (Father)
said they practiced co-sleeping, where all four sleep
together in the same bed. After he and Mother researched
co-sleeping's pros and cons, they decided to try it and
found it helped Mother to breastfeed G.J., to alleviate
D.J.'s night terrors, and to help with his autism.
on the bathtub incident, the messy condition of the family
home, and the family's co-sleeping practice, the
Department removed the Boys from their Parents' care and
placed them with their grandparents. On July 21, the
Department filed a petition alleging the Boys to be children
in need of services under Indiana Code section 31-34-1-1 and
began services with the family. Required
"home-based" services included parental
psychological evaluations, drug screens, parenting
curriculum, homemaker services (cleaning the home and ...