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In re Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of J.K.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 7, 2018

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,
v.
Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner.

          Appeal 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, 82D04-1711-JT-2035, 82D04-1711-JT-2036.

          Attorney for Appellant Erin L. Berger Evansville, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana

          Robert J. Henke Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          MATHIAS, JUDGE.

         [¶1] 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.

         [¶2] 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, [1] June 9, 2018 Order in Case No. 18A-JT-527. This case was referenced in this Order.

         [¶3] Here, L.R. failed to appear for a "status of counsel" hearing.[2] 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.

         [¶4] 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."[3] 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)).

         [¶5] For all of these reasons, we reverse the trial court's order terminating L.R.'s parental rights.

         [¶6] Reversed and remanded for proceedings ...


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