In re Interest of Sebastian D. and Lillian-Jo D.

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In re Interest of Sebastian D. and Lillian-Jo D.

Caselaw No.
A-15-772
Filed on
Tuesday, April 26, 2016


SUMMARY: Corwyn D. appeals the order of an order of the Separate Juvenile Court of Lancaster County finding that his children, Sebastian D. and Lillian-Jo D. were within the meaning of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-247(3)(a). The Court of Appeals affirms the decision of the Juvenile Court.

On September 26, 2014, the State filed a petition in the Juvenile Court alleging that Sebastian had bodily injuries that were non-accidental.. The State alleged that as Corwyn was the children’s primary caregiver, his actions placed the children at risk of physical and/or emotional harm.

Sebastian and Lillian-Jo were placed in temporary custody of DHHS in relative foster care. At a Review Hearing on December 19, 2014, the Court found that returning custody to the parents would be contrary to the children’s welfare due to the opinion of Sebastian’s doctor that his serious head injuries were consistent with child abuse.  

On February 23, 2015, the State filed a motion for termination of Corwyn’s parental rights. The State alleged grounds for terminating Corwyn’s parental rights under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-292(2), (8), and (9) and that termination of his parental rights was in the children’s best interests.

A consolidated trial was held on the adjudication and termination of parental rights over several days. Evidence presented at trial includes over 1,200 pages of testimony and five volumes of exhibits.

The State had several doctors testify who all agreed that Sebastian had undergone severe head trauma. Sebastian had been diagnosed with abusive head trauma and that trauma had been caused by force. While in foster care, Sebastian began to heal. 

Corwyn presented expert testimony from two doctors who said Sebastian’s injuries could have been caused from a “minor impact” and that he may have had a chronic condition that made him susceptible to this kind of head injury.

On July 16, 2015, the Juvenile Court entered an order adjudicating Sebastian and Lillian-Jo as juveniles within the meaning of § 43-247(3)(a) upon finding by a preponderance of the evidence that Corwyn caused Sebastian’s injuries. However, the court also found the State had failed to prove the alleged grounds for terminating Corwyn’s parental rights by clear and convincing evidence and that termination of his parental rights was not in the children’s best interests.

Corwyn asserts that the Juvenile Court erred in (1) giving undue weight to the State’s expert witnesses and (2) adjudicating Sebastian and Lillian-Jo as neglected children.

The standard of review for juvenile cases is de novo on the record. In re Interest of Enyce J., 291 Neb. 965 (2015). When credible evidence is in conflict, an appellate court may give weight to the fact that the trial court observed the witnesses. In re Interest of Joseph S., 291 Neb. 953, (2015).

Because the Juvenile Court had the opportunity to observe the witnesses, it is appropriate that it found the State’s experts to be credible. See In re Interest of Joseph S., Supra. Therefore, this assignment of error is without merit.

The Juvenile Court found that Corwyn caused Sebastian’s injuries. The Nebraska Supreme Court has previously held that where uncontradicted evidence establishes that a child sustained injuries not likely to occur in the normal course of the child’s movements and where the parent fails to seek treatment for the injury, there is evidence to support a finding that the child is a neglected child within the Nebraska Juvenile Code. In re Interest of A.L.G., 230 Neb. 732 (1988).

The Court of Appeals recognizes that there was conflicting evidence as to the cause of the injuries and that Corwyn did seek medical treatment Sebastian, but it ultimately defers to the Juvenile Court’s unique opportunity to observe the witnesses. The Court of Appeals therefore finds that the Juvenile Court did not err in adjudicating Sebastian and Lillian-Jo as a children within the meaning of § 43-247(3)(a).