In Re Interest Leyton C. and Landyn C.

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In Re Interest Leyton C. and Landyn C.

Caselaw No.
307 Neb. 529 (2020)
Filed on
Friday, October 23, 2020

Summary:

Madison C., the mother, appealed the order of the Separate Juvenile Court of Lancaster County terminating her parental rights to her children, Leyton and Landyn. The Court of Appeals found the State did not prove that terminating Madison’s rights was in the best interests of the children and reversed and remanded the case, the State and GAL petitioned for further review with the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court found clear and convincing existed to terminate the mother’s parental rights and reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded with direction.

Madison, is the mother to Leyton, born in 2015, and Landyn, born in 2017. The father has relinquished his rights. A petition was filed in July of 2016 alleging that Leyton lacked proper parental care in that she left him with her mother without making provisions, and also tested positive for methamphetamine. Madison admitted to the allegations and Leyton was adjudicated to be within the meaning of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-247(3). Landyn was also adjudicated after his birth. Madison had her children returned to her in January of 2018, but in July they were removed again.

In October of 2018, the State filed a petition to terminate Madison’s rights under 43-2929(2), (4), (6), and (7) and that TPR would be in the best interests of the children. The hearing was held over several days and detailed the severe domestic violence Madison suffered during a relationship with a man who is now in jail. During the relationship, she did not participate in services. After the relationship ended, she began therapy with a focus on severe PTSD. During this time, her children were returned to her. Unfortunately, her therapist went on maternity leave and she did not get placed in therapy for some time while her children were home. She relapsed on methamphetamine and also started a relationship with a man with a criminal history with whom she used drugs. Her children were removed again and she started seeing a new therapist. This therapist also recommended substance use treatment. Both therapists testified at the hearing and her current therapist felt she would be capable of parenting and she had a “good” prognosis. The visitation supervisor also testified that she had really good visits and the children were happy to see her. A domestic violence expert testified that Madison’s journey to recovery is typical after severe abuse. However, the caseworker continued to recommend termination.

The juvenile court terminated Madison’s rights after the hearing.  Madison appealed based on the statutory grounds for TPR and that TPR was in the best interests of her children.  The Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile court’s order, finding that the State did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the best interests of the children.  The Court of Appeals weighed Madison’s young age, her history of being of victim of domestic violence and lack of continuous services heavily in their opinion. Both the State and GAL petitioned the Supreme Court for further review.

The Supreme Court held that when a parent is unable or unwilling to rehabilitate himself or herself within a reasonable period of time, the child’s best interests require termination of parental rights.  In re Interest of Walter W., 274 Neb. 859, 744 N.W.2d 55 (2008); In re Interest of Destiny A. et al., 274 Neb. 713, 742 N.W.2d 758 (2007); In re Interest of Phoenix L., 270 Neb. 870, 708 N.W.2d 786 (2006), disapproved on other grounds, In re Interest of Destiny A. et al, supra.  The 15-month condition contained in § 43-292(7) provides a reasonable timetable for parents to rehabilitate themselves.  In re Interest of Alec S., 294 Neb. 784, 884 N.W.2d 701 (2016).   The Supreme Court found that Madison had enough time to rehabilitate herself and that she failed to do so, and concluded that the Court of Appeals erred in finding that the State failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the termination of Madison’s parental rights was in the children’s best interests.

Due to its (Court of Appeals) conclusion that the State failed to prove termination was not in the children’s best interests, the Court of Appeals did not address whether statutory grounds for termination existed, therefore the Supreme Court addressed it in the decision.

The juvenile court had determined that the State proved grounds as to both children under § 43-292(2), (4), and (6), and as to Leyton under § 43-292(7). The Supreme Court looked at whether or not the State proved by clear and convincing evidence that Madison “substantially and continuously or repeatedly neglected and refused to give the juvenile or a sibling of the juvenile necessary parental care and protection.”  § 43-292(2).  The evidence presented at the termination hearing demonstrated that Madison failed to provide her young children with necessary parental care and protection for a prolonged period of time. One need not have physical possession of a child to demonstrate the existence of neglect contemplated by § 43-292(2).  In re Interest of Joseph S. et al. 291 Neb. 953, 870 N.W.2d 141 (2015).  Madison’s spotty record of taking care of her children, continuous drug abuse, involvement with inappropriate intimate partners (criminals/drug users) and lack of service involvement are all evidence of repeated neglect.  The State proved by clear and convincing evidence that Madison neglected to provide necessary parental care and protection for her children. Since any one of the bases for termination of parental rights codified by § 43-292 can serve as the basis for the termination of parental rights when coupled with evidence that termination is in the best interests of the child the Supreme Court did not consider the other statutory grounds.

The Supreme Court stated because the State proved both that a statutory ground existed for termination of Madison’s parental rights and termination of such rights was in the children’s best interests, the Court of Appeals erred by reversing the juvenile court’s judgment. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed and remanded with direction to affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.