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In re Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of C.M.S.T.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 11, 2018

In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of C.M.S.T., T.M., & M.M. (Children) and A.S (Mother) and R.T. (Father); A.S. (Mother) and R.T. (Father), Appellants-Respondents,
v.
The Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioners

          Appeal from the Spencer Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No. 74C01-1706-JT-135 74C01-1706-JT-136 74C01-1706-JT-137 The Honorable William E. Weikert, Senior Judge.

          Attorney for Appellant A.S. (Mother) Cara Schaefer Wieneke Wieneke Law Office Brooklyn, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellant R.T. (Father) Steven E. Ripstra Jacob P. Wahl Ripstra Law Office Jasper, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Robert J. Henke Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          May, Judge.

         [¶1] A.S. ("Mother") appeals the involuntary termination of her parental rights to C.M.S.T., born May 11, 2011; T.M., born November 12, 2013; and M.M., born May 24, 2016 (collectively, "Children"). R.T. ("Father") appeals the involuntary termination of his parental rights to C.M.S.T.[1] Mother and Father (collectively, "Parents") present a number of issues, one of which we find dispositive: whether Parents were denied due process during the proceedings. The Department of Child Services ("DCS") concedes Parents were denied due process. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

         Facts and Procedural History[2]

         [¶2] In March 2015, DCS responded to a report that Mother and her then-husband were involved in a domestic violence-related altercation. C.M.S.T. was staying with Father at the time. T.M. was removed from Mother's care based on the domestic violence and Mother's use of methamphetamine. Father was required to bring C.M.S.T. to the DCS office for placement outside Mother's home as well. Father testified C.M.S.T. was not placed with him at that time because of his prior criminal history. T.M. and C.M.S.T. were placed with their grandmother, Te.C., [3] though at some point they were removed from her care and placed in foster care.

         [¶3] On March 21, 2015, DCS filed a petition alleging T.M. and C.M.S.T. were Children in Need of Services ("CHINS"). On April 16, 2015, T.M. and C.M.S.T. were adjudicated CHINS. In May 2015, C.M.S.T. was placed with Father on a trial basis. She was removed from Father's care shortly thereafter because Father had a medical emergency resulting from a mixture of alcohol and anti-anxiety medication. On June 8, 2015, the trial court entered its dispositional order in this case, ordering Mother and Father to engage in services.

         [¶4] Jesse Hubert was the first Family Case Manager ("FCM") assigned to the case. At some point, he was replaced by FCM Marilyn Neal, who submitted a report[4]in the case on October 14, 2015. Father testified FCM Neal filed a false report that Father "went to [C.M.S.T.'s] school, made a scene, and tried to take [C.M.S.T.]." (Tr. Vol. III at 141.) Based on FCM Neal's false report, Father was required to participate in supervised visits with C.M.S.T. and was banned from the school. DCS terminated FCM Neal, who was replaced by FCM Sybil Rodeck. FCM Rodeck was on the case for only a short period of time before she was replaced with FCM Megan Ginanni, who was also working with Father on a CHINS case for one of his other children.

         [¶5] At some point during her time working on the case, FCM Ginanni and Father began exchanging Facebook messages, which became sexually explicit in nature. FCM Ginanni and Father also engaged in a sexual relationship. Father testified FCM Ginanni would give him advanced notice of drug screens and told him he did not need to continue engaging in certain services. Father testified FCM Ginanni told him he "would get reunified [with C.M.S.T.] and she[5] would live with me and she was gonna (sic) help me get [Father's other child] as well." (Id. at 149) (footnote added).

         [¶6] In January 2016, C.M.S.T. was placed with Father for a trial home visit. In March 2016, FCM Ginanni gave Father a drug screen he failed. Father testified FCM Ginanni told him "she'd take care of it." (Id. at 150.) Father submitted another drug test the next day and failed it, resulting in C.M.S.T.'s removal from his care. Father was arrested after his positive drug screen because drug use also violated the terms of his probation. Father testified he "got angry and decided to come clean about everything" with FCM Ginanni to FCM Ginanni's supervisor. DCS fired FCM Ginanni based on her inappropriate relationship with Father.

         [¶7] During these transitions, Mother was compliant with services. Mother testified she stopped using methamphetamine on July 15, 2015. She learned she was pregnant with M.M. in October 2015. In March 2016, FCM Maureen Lambeck took over the case. Prior to M.M.'s birth in May 2016, Mother requested a trial home visit with C.M.S.T. and T.M. to prepare for the birth of their sibling. FCM Lambeck denied her request, though she allowed C.M.S.T. and T.M. to participate in overnight visits with Mother on the weekend. Then, in July or August 2016, FCM Lambeck placed C.M.S.T. and T.M. in Mother's care for a trial home visit.

         [¶8] In early September 2016, Mother left Children with her father, her older son, and her older son's girlfriend, so that Mother could use methamphetamine at a different location. Mother testified she reported her use to FCM Lambeck shortly thereafter. FCM Lambeck removed Children from Mother's care and placed them in two separate placements - C.M.S.T. with kinship placement, and T.M. and M.M. in foster placement.

         [¶9] Mother testified she contacted a DCS attorney in December 2016 and asked the attorney to help Mother find an inpatient substance abuse treatment center. Mother was placed at Serenity House and engaged in residential treatment until February 2017, when Serenity House's administrator had a medical emergency out of town and was unable to manage the facility. Mother immediately contacted FCM Lambeck, who provided Mother with a list of inpatient treatment facilities, but FCM Lambeck testified it was Mother's "responsibility to get into those places." (Id. at 77.)[6] Mother moved in with her father and lost her job due to lack of transportation.

         [¶10] In June 2017, DCS filed petitions to terminate Mother's and Father's parental rights to their respective children. In July 2017, while with the father of M.M. and T.M., Mother was arrested for possession of paraphernalia and tested positive for methamphetamine. The arrest violated Mother's probation on another charge, so she was taken into custody. At the time of the termination hearing, Mother was housed at the Spencer County Jail, but she allegedly was scheduled to be released shortly after the hearing. Father was also housed at the Spencer County Jail at the time of the termination proceedings, and he testified he was scheduled for release on September 26, 2018.

         [¶11] In August 2017, Te.C. and Ta.C., Children's respective paternal grandmothers, filed a motion to intervene, seeking to have Children placed with either paternal grandmother. Those requests were denied.[7] On August 15 and September 12, 2017, the trial court held evidentiary hearings regarding the termination petitions. On January 8, 2018, the trial court ...


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