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In re Ad.M.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 31, 2018

In the Matter of: Ad.M., An.M., and S.M. (Minor Children);
Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner. A.M. (Mother), Appellant-Respondent,

          Appeal from the Lake Superior Court Trial Court Cause Nos. 45D06-1706-JC-722 45D06-1706-JC-723 45D06-1706-JC-724 The Honorable Thomas P. Stefaniak, Jr., Judge The Honorable Jeffrey Miller, Magistrate

          Attorney for Appellant Renee M. Ortega Lake County Juvenile Public Defender's Office Crown Point, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana David E. Corey Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Najam, Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] A.M. ("Mother") appeals the trial court's adjudication of her three minor children, Ad.M., An.M, and S.M. ("Children"), as children in need of services ("CHINS"). Mother raises a single issue for our review, which we restate as whether the trial court erred when it adjudicated Children to be CHINS.[1]

         [¶2] We reverse.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Mother is married to P.G. ("Father"). Mother and Father have one child, S.M., born October 27, 2015. Mother also has two children from a prior relationship: Ad.M., born December 19, 2005, and An.M., born February 24, 2014. When S.M. was born, she tested positive for marijuana. As a result, the Indiana Department of Child Services ("DCS") began an informal adjustment[2]with Mother, which she successfully completed in 2016.

         [¶4] Mother owns a trailer on Melton Road in Gary. However, in 2017, Mother and the Children were staying in a house on Whitcomb Road because the power had been shut off at the trailer. The house belonged to a family friend named B.V. Father did not reside at the house with Mother. On June 22, 2017, Mother and Father got into a physical altercation at the house while the Children were present. Mother and Father believed that the Children were asleep. However, Ad.M. was awake and walked in on the altercation. Ad.M. saw that Father was holding Mother down. Ad.M. attempted to break up the fight, but Father shoved Ad.M. Ad.M. got scared, and he called the police. Officers arrived at the home and conducted an investigation. During their investigation, officers found six marijuana plants that B.V. admitted belonged to him. Officers arrested B.V.

         [¶5] DCS received a report that there had been a domestic dispute at the house while the Children were present and that there were drugs in the house. DCS investigator Erin Kujawa was assigned to investigate the report. On Friday, June 23, Kujawa attempted to find Mother, but Mother was not at either the house or the trailer. Kujawa was finally able to reach Mother by telephone, and they set up an initial meeting for Monday, June 26. During that weekend, Mother and the Children moved their belongings from the trailer into the house.

         [¶6] On June 26, Kujawa met Mother at the house. Kuajwa noticed that the house was "cluttered." Tr. Vol. II at 25. During the meeting, Kujawa spoke with Mother about the marijuana plants that officers had found, and she learned that Mother knew that the plants had been there. Kujawa also noticed that Ad.M. had a bruise on his face. Mother stated that Ad.M. was bruised when he tripped over An.M.'s foot while at the doctor's office. Kujawa asked Mother to take a drug test, but mother refused.

         [¶7] On June 29, Janet Taylor, a permanency case manager with DCS, visited Mother at the house. Taylor observed that the house was in "terrible condition." Id. at 34. She noticed that the water from a bathroom sink was brown, the kitchen faucet did not work, there was a "minimal amount of food, " and the carpet was "extremely dirty. It felt sticky under your feet." Id. at 36. She also saw that S.M.'s bed was right in front of a television. Taylor thought that that was dangerous because S.M. could "easily pull the television down on herself." Id. at 35. An.M. and Ad.M. slept on air mattresses on the floor, but the air mattresses were not blown up. Taylor also noticed that the toilet was not operable and there was a "very bad odor" coming from the toilet. Id. at 37. Taylor observed that there was no water in the home, and there was very little food. Mother told Taylor that she went to the store daily to buy food and water, but there was no drinking water at the time of Taylor's visit.

         [¶8] Based on her observations, Taylor told Mother that the house was not suitable for children. Mother called Father and arranged for her and the Children to stay with Father at Father's mother's home. Taylor visited that home and found it to be appropriate. As ...

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