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,
The Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioners
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
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. 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.
and Procedural History
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.,  though at some point they were removed
from her care and placed in foster care.
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.
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
reportin 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.
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
would live with me and she was gonna (sic) help me get
[Father's other child] as well." (Id. at
149) (footnote added).
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.
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.
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
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.) Mother moved in with her father and lost
her job due to lack of transportation.
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.
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. On August 15 and September 12,
2017, the trial court held evidentiary hearings regarding the
termination petitions. On January 8, 2018, the trial court