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

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 26, 2019

In Re: the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: K.R., J.T.R., J.L.R., & E.R. (Minor Children);
v.
The Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner. A.B. (Mother) and J.R. (Father), Appellants-Respondents,

          Appeal from the Steuben Circuit Court The Honorable Allen N. Wheat, Judge Trial Court Cause Nos. 76C01-1807-JT-234, 76C01-1807-JT-235, 76C01-1807-JT-236, 76C01-1807-JT-237

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT, A.B. Leanna Weissmann Lawrenceburg, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT, J.R. Kimberly A. Jackson Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana David E. Corey Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          PYLE, JUDGE.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] A.B. ("Mother") and J.R. ("Father") (collectively "Parents") each appeal the termination of the parent-child relationship with their children J.L.R. ("J.L.R."), E.R. ("E.R."), J.T.R. ("J.T.R.") and K.R. ("K.R.") (collectively "the Children"). Parents argue that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting their drug test results into evidence and that there is insufficient evidence to support the terminations. Regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, Parents argue that the Department of Child Services ("DCS") failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that there is a reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in the Children's removal or the reasons for placement outside the home will not be remedied. Mother also argues that DCS failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the termination of the parent-child relationships is in the Children's best interests and that there is a satisfactory plan for the care and treatment of the Children. Concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence and that there is sufficient evidence to support the termination of the parent-child relationships, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         [¶2] We affirm.

         Issues

         1. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting Parents' drug test results into evidence.

         2. Whether there is sufficient evidence to support the terminations.

         Facts

         [¶3] The evidence and reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom that support the judgment reveal that Mother and Father are the parents of K.R., who was born in June 2004; J.T.R., who was born in in May 2008; E.R., who was born in December 2010; and J.L.R., who was born in March 2013. In April 2017, DCS removed the Children from Parents' home because of conditions in the home and domestic violence. One week later, the Children were returned to the home for a trial visit. At this time, Father was incarcerated. After Mother had a positive drug test, DCS removed the Children from the home again in May 2017 and placed them in foster care.

         [¶4] The trial court subsequently adjudicated the Children to be children in need of services ("CHINS"). In September 2017, following the CHINS adjudication, the trial court ordered Parents to: (1) maintain suitable and safe housing; (2) secure and maintain a legal and stable source of income; (3) submit to random drug screens; (4) complete parenting assessments and successfully complete all recommendations; (5) complete psychological evaluations and successfully complete all recommendations; (6) complete substance abuse assessments and successfully complete all recommendations; and (7) abstain from the use of illegal controlled substances.

         [¶5] In July 2018, DCS filed petitions to terminate the parent-child relationships. Testimony at the January 2019 termination hearing revealed that although Parents had participated in the court-ordered assessments, Parents had failed to successfully complete any of the court-ordered programs. In addition, Parents, who were living with Mother's brother and his family at the time of the termination hearing, did not have stable housing to accommodate the Children. Mother's brother, who had recently lost his job, also housed his girlfriend and his five children. Further, although Mother was employed at the time of the hearing, her employment throughout the proceedings had been sporadic. In addition, the testimony revealed that during the course of the proceedings, Parents had never progressed to unsupervised visitation with the Children.

         [¶6] Also during the hearing, the trial court admitted Parents' drug test results over Parents' objections. (State's Exhibits 30 (Father's Test Results) and 31 (Mother's Test Results)). Each exhibit included a total of nearly sixty pages of Parents' consents and drug testing results. The trial court admitted these exhibits during the telephonic testimony of Bridget Lemberg ("Lemberg"), lab director and custodian of the records at Forensic Fluids Laboratories ("Forensic Fluids") in Michigan. Forensic Fluids is licensed by the Michigan State Department of Health with CLIA certification by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services. Each exhibit was also accompanied by Lemberg's sworn affidavit, which provided that in her capacity as lab director, she was "familiar with the procedures employed to ensure the chain of custody of samples, the testing of those samples, and the validity of the test procedures employed by [the] laboratory." (State's Ex. 30 and 31 at 54). Lemberg also set forth in detail the laboratory's procedures and affirmed that all of the procedures had been followed when testing Parents' submitted samples. Lemberg's affidavit further explained that the laboratory reports set forth in the exhibits had been "maintained in the normal course of business activity as [] business record[s]." (State's Exs. 30 and 31 at 55).

         [¶7] According to the drug test results, Mother tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine in August, September, and October 2018 after the termination petitions had been filed. Mother also submitted to a drug test the day of the termination hearing, and the results of that test were also positive for methamphetamine. In addition, Mother testified at the termination hearing that she had used methamphetamine in August, September, and October 2018 and that she had no reason to believe that the positive drug test results from that period were inaccurate. Mother also admitted that she had not completed any of the court-ordered services and that she had never progressed to unsupervised visitation.

         [¶8] Father also testified that he had used methamphetamine, amphetamine, and marijuana in August, September, and October 2018 and did not dispute the positive drug test results from that time period. Father admitted that he had used illegal drugs "probably all [his] life" and believed that it would be appropriate for his children to live with him even though he continued to use drugs because, according to him, his drug use did not affect the Children. (Tr. Vol. 2 at 142). He also testified that he was in "a little bit worse" of a place to have the Children living with him than he was when they were removed twenty months before the hearing because he did not "have [his] own, [his] own place for 'em." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 144). The evidence also revealed that Father had two pending charges for dealing methamphetamine as Level 2 and 4 felonies. According to Father, he thought that he would be convicted of the Level 4 charge but not the Level 2 one.

         [¶9] Also at the hearing, former DCS Family Case Manager Tennille Evers ("FCM Evers"), who had been the family's case manager from November 2016 until October 2018, testified that during that time period, Parents had not "progress[ed] . . . in any meaningful way in terms of improving their overall situation relative to uh the reason that they ha[d] involvement at the DCS." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 165). Specifically, FCM Evers explained that Parents' "drug issues [had] continued. Their domestic violence issues [had] continued. Their housing situation was unstable at best." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 165). DCS FCM Justin Kuhnle, who had ...


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