In re the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of J.K., B.K., and I.R. (Minor Children) and L.R. (Mother), Appellant-Respondent,
Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner.
from the Vanderburgh Superior Court The Honorable Brett J.
Niemeier, Judge The Honorable Renee A. Ferguson, Magistrate
Trial Court Cause Nos. 82D04-1711-JT-2034,
Attorney for Appellant Erin L. Berger Evansville, Indiana
Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
J. Henke Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana
The Vanderburgh Superior Court terminated L.R.'s parental
rights to her children without affording her due process
under Indiana statute in several, separate instances. For
this reason, we reverse the trial court's judgment.
Initially, we observe that on June 9, 2018, our court issued
an order addressing due process violations in termination of
parental rights cases from courts across the state.
Specifically, in the Order, our court noted that DCS has
filed motions for remand in too many cases conceding, as it
did in this case, that the Appellant had not been provided
with due process or their due process rights have been
violated. In its motions, DCS requested that the cases be
remanded to the trial court for further proceedings
consistent with due process. Our court observed that
The increasing frequency of these motions suggest that there
are repeated, significant violations of due process occurring
in termination of parental rights cases throughout this
state. This is a disturbing trend given the fundamental
rights at issue in these types of cases. . . .
While the Court commends DCS for essentially conceding error
in these cases, the Court is obligated to formally admonish
DCS for its failure to afford litigants throughout this state
the due process rights they are owed. Furthermore, the Court
also reminds the trial courts throughout this state of their
duty to ensure that litigants' due process rights are not
violated. Given the fundamental due process rights at issue
in termination of parental rights cases, affording litigants
these fundamental due process rights is essential, including
not only the litigants but also their children.
See Exhibit A,  June 9, 2018 Order in Case No.
18A-JT-527. This case was referenced in this Order.
Here, L.R. failed to appear for a "status of
counsel" hearing. For this reason alone, and on the motion
of the Department of Child Services ("DCS"), the
trial court entered a default judgment against her and
terminated her parental rights. L.R. filed a timely motion to
correct error, and at the hearing held on that motion, she
was denied the opportunity to explain her failure to appear.
DCS concedes that L.R. "was not provided the due process
protection to which she is entitled" and the
"court's termination order does not satisfy the
requirements of Indiana Code [section] 31-35-2-8[.]"
Appellee's Br. at 10. Specifically, the trial court
failed to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law as
required by Indiana Code section 31-35-2-8. "Compliance
with the statutory procedure of the juvenile code is
mandatory to effect termination of parental
rights." In re H.K., 971 N.E.2d 100, 103
(Ind.Ct.App. 2012) (quoting In re T.W., 831 N.E.2d
1242, 1246 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005)).
For all of these reasons, we reverse the trial court's
order terminating L.R.'s parental rights.
Reversed and remanded for proceedings ...