Court Case Nos. 47C01-1608-JD-264, 47C01-1612-JD-492,
Loretta H. Rush Chief Justice.
matter has come before the Indiana Supreme Court on a
petition to transfer jurisdiction, filed pursuant to Indiana
Appellate Rules 56(B) and 57, following the issuance of a
decision by the Court of Appeals. The Court has reviewed the
decision of the Court of Appeals, and the submitted record on
appeal, all briefs filed in the Court of Appeals, and all
materials filed in connection with the request to transfer
jurisdiction have been made available to the Court for
review. Each participating member has had the opportunity to
voice that Justice's views on the case in conference with
the other Justices, and each participating member of the
Court has voted on the petition.
duly advised, the Court DENIES the petition to transfer.
C.J., Massa, J., and Slaughter, J., vote to deny transfer.
J., dissents to the denial of transfer with separate opinion
in which Goff, J., joins.
case underscores an unfortunate reality that many parents or
guardians of a child that has been adjudicated delinquent
simply do not have the means to reimburse the Department of
Child Services after a court orders services for the child.
The financial burden of these court- ordered payments can
place an additional strain on family life and can tie
parents' hands for several years after the fact.
Notwithstanding the real or perceived pressure to do what is
right for a child, some parents are overwhelmed by the
proceedings in juvenile court and agree to payment
conditions-regardless of their actual ability to pay-in order
to quickly resolve the issue. Because I believe the parents
in this particular case did not have an adequate opportunity
to present their full financial picture to the trial court, I
respectfully dissent from the denial of transfer.
Indiana Code section 31-40-1-3(a), parents or guardians are
normally responsible for the cost of services provided by or
through the Department of Child Services. But this statute
also specifically exempts a parent or guardian from
reimbursing the Department if a trial court "makes a
specific finding that the parent or guardian is unable to pay
or that justice would not be served by ordering payment from
the parent or guardian." Ind. Code § 31-40-1-3(c).
The actual process of this inquiry likely varies from county
to county and from court to court, and I have no reason to
believe the trial court in this case did anything out of the
ordinary. Rather than a passive requirement, however, I would
hold that a trial court must specifically inquire into a
parent or guardian's ability to pay the reimbursement
before entering an order directing payments. Under the facts
and circumstances of this case, I believe such an inquiry
would have revealed the significant financial burden that has
been placed on these particular parents.
record before our Court indicates that juvenile J.T. had
numerous probation violations, participated unsuccessfully in
several rehabilitative programs, and incurred significant
court costs and detention fees over the course of the last
few years. All said and done, the total amount of money owed
for restitution, court costs, and fees from services was $8,
363. Mother, who had been in discussions with J.T.'s
probation officer prior to the fees hearing, thought she
might be able to afford payments of between $20 to $30 per
month. After considering this information, the trial court
set restitution at $20 per month subject to a review hearing
at a future date. Assuming all things stay the same, this
means Mother will be obligated to make payments for the next
418 months-which is almost thirty-five (35)
record further indicates that J.T.'s Mother and Father
were separated, Father's only income was in the form of
disability checks, J.T. had wrecked his Mother's car
prior to these hearings (which caused a financial strain on
Mother), and Father was incarcerated at the time of the fees
hearing. Despite all of this, Mother was still willing to
make amends for J.T.'s actions. But as Judge Bailey's
dissent in this case noted, "[t]he willingness and
agreement of Mother to contribute does not necessarily render
her able to satisfy an $8, 363.00 judgment without extreme
hardship." J.T. v. State, 111 N.E.3d 1019, 1025
(Ind.Ct.App. 2018) (Bailey, J., dissenting). Consequently, I
do not believe justice would be served by ordering J.T.'s
parents to bear a thirty-five year financial burden.
require a trial court to inquire into the ability of a
juvenile's parents to pay is not a novel idea. Our own
Court of Appeals has already found this requirement in
several cases prior to the present dispute. See M.Q.M. v.
State, 840 N.E.2d 441, 449 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006) (accepting
the argument that a juvenile court improperly ordered a
parent to pay fees without first conducting an indigency
hearing); In re M.L.K., 751 N.E.2d 293, 298-99
(Ind.Ct.App. 2001) (finding the legislative purpose of the
"obligation of parent or guardian" statute was to
require an inquiry into a parent's ability to pay);
Matter of C.K., 695 N.E.2d 601, 605-606 (Ind.Ct.App.
1998) (remanding a determination that a parent owed $52, 276
because the trial court failed to inquire into the
parents' ability to pay and finding this inquiry was
"sound public policy"). The common thread in each
of the Court of Appeals opinions on this matter-the present
case excepted-is that trial courts bear responsibility under
the statute to make sure a parent is able to pay the
obligation or that justice is ultimately served by requiring
payment. I would hold the same here.
the balance owed in this case is substantially less than
those balances at issue in Matter of C.K. (over $52,
000) and In re M.L.K. (nearly $22, 000), I still
believe a special inquiry into J.T.'s parents'
ability to pay was necessary. See J.T., 111 N.E.3d
at 1025 (discussing and comparing the present balance owed
against those balances in C.K. and M.L.K.).
I would find that Indiana Code section 31-40-1-3(c) compels a
trial court to inquire into the ability to pay no matter what
number appears on the balance sheet. As previously stated, I
do not believe the trial court in this case deviated from
what is likely the common practice in many courtrooms across
the state. But I do believe that we can and should do better
in this ...