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In re Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of S.S.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 6, 2019

In the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: S.S. (Minor Child)
The Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner. and L.M. (Mother) and Sa.S. (Father), Appellants-Respondents,

          Appeal from the White Circuit Court The Honorable Robert W. Thacker, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 91C01-1712-JT-30

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT L.M. (MOTHER) Benjamin J. Church Church Law Office Monticello, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT SA.S. (FATHER) Christopher P. Phillips Phillips Law Office, P.C. Monticello, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Natalie F. Weiss Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Robb, Judge.

         Case Summary and Issue

         [¶1] L.M. ("Mother") and Sa.S. ("Father") (collectively "Parents") separately appeal the juvenile court's judgment terminating their parental rights to S.S. ("Child"). Parents present several issues for our review which we consolidate and restate as: whether the juvenile court erred in terminating their parental rights. Concluding the juvenile court did not err in terminating either Mother's or Father's parental rights, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Mother and Father are the biological parents of Child who was born on June 30, 2013.[1] Child tested positive for THC at birth and the Indiana Department of Child Services ("DCS") conducted an informal adjustment and then a child in need of services ("CHINS") case before reunifying Child with Father.

         [¶3] On May 16, 2016, DCS received a report that Parents were neglecting Child and using illegal drugs in his presence. After Parents were contacted by DCS, Mother refused a drug screen and Father tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, and THC. Parents fled with Child to Florida, but Father eventually returned with Child on May 27 and Child was removed from his care. Child was placed in relative care with paternal grandfather where Child remained throughout the duration of this case.

         [¶4] DCS filed its CHINS petition on June 1, 2016 based on Parents' drug use in the presence of the Child, Mother's refusal to take a drug screen, Father's positive drug test, Parents' decision to flee to Florida, and Parents' prior involvement with DCS. The juvenile court conducted a detention hearing on June 2 at which only Father appeared and the juvenile court authorized Child's continued removal and placement in relative care. Due to Father being on probation when he fled to Florida, he was incarcerated from June to August 2016 for violating the terms of his probation.

         [¶5] Following a factfinding hearing, the juvenile court adjudicated Child to be CHINS on September 28, 2016. The juvenile court ordered Parents to, among other things: maintain contact with DCS; maintain suitable, safe, and stable housing; maintain a stable source of income; not use, consume, trade or sell any illegal controlled substances; obey the law; submit to random drug screens; attend all scheduled visitations with the Child; engage in home based case management; and complete a substance abuse assessment and all treatment recommendations therefrom. Appellant's [Mother's] Appendix, Volume II 19-23.

         [¶6] After Parents failed to comply with many of the terms ordered by the juvenile court, DCS filed a verified petition for the termination of the parent-child relationship ("TPR") between Father, Mother, and Child on December 28, 2017. Following a TPR hearing on June 13 and June 18, 2018, the juvenile court issued its termination order on September 4, which included 160 findings of fact[2] and concluding DCS had met the statutory requirements for terminating the parent-child relationships. See id. at 65-66. Father and Mother now separately appeal. Additional facts will be supplied as necessary.

         Discussion and Decision

         I. Standard of Review

         [¶7] We begin, as we often do, by emphasizing that the right of parents to establish a home and raise their children is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In re D.D., 804 N.E.2d 258, 264 (Ind.Ct.App. 2004), trans. denied. The law provides for the termination of these constitutionally protected rights, however, when parents are unable or unwilling to meet their parental responsibilities. In re R.H., 892 N.E.2d 144, 149 (Ind.Ct.App. 2008). We subordinate the interests of the parents to those of the child when evaluating the circumstances surrounding a termination. In re K.S., 750 N.E.2d 832, 837 (Ind.Ct.App. 2001).

         [¶8] We do not reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of witnesses when reviewing the termination of parental rights. In re D.D., 804 N.E.2d at 265. Rather, we consider only the evidence and reasonable inferences most favorable to the judgment. Id. Furthermore, in deference to the juvenile court's unique position to assess the evidence, we only set aside its judgment terminating a parent-child relationship when it is clearly erroneous. In re L.S., 717 N.E.2d 204, 208 (Ind.Ct.App. 1999), trans. denied, cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1161 (2002).

         [¶9] Where, as here, the juvenile court enters findings of fact and conclusions thereon, we apply a two-tiered standard of review. Bester v. Lake Cty. Office of Family & Children, 839 N.E.2d 143, 147 (Ind. 2005). We must first determine whether the evidence supports the findings, then we must determine whether the findings support the judgment. Id. Findings will only be set aside if they are clearly erroneous and findings are only clearly erroneous "when the record ...

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