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In re Regarding Guardianship of D.J.M.

Court of Appeal of Iowa

June 12, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF AND REGARDING THE GUARDIANSHIP OF D.J.M. ROLAND MARTZAHN and DEANNE MARTZAHN, Guardians-Appellants.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Butler County, DeDra L. Schroeder, Judge.

The guardians appeal the district court's order denying their final report and sanctioning them.

Lana L. Luhring of Laird & Luhring, Waverly, for appellants.

Bruce J. Toenjes of Nelson & Toenjes, Shell Rock, for appellee mother. Christy Liss, Waterloo, for father.

Dale Edwin Goeke of Goeke Law Firm, Waverly, guardian ad litem for D.J.M.

Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Danilson and Mullins, JJ.

MULLINS, J.

Guardians, Roland and Deanna Martzahn, appeal the district court's December 20, 2012 order, which disapproved the final report they filed seeking to terminate the guardianship and also sanctioned them in the amount of $300 "for failing to abide by the previous orders of this Court." They claim their final report should have been approved and the guardianship terminated because the guardianship was no longer necessary in light of the fact the minor child had been transitioned into the care of his natural mother and father. In addition, they claim the sanction imposed was improper as the issue of sanctions was not before the court and the court failed to follow the procedural requirements for finding them in contempt. We affirm the district court's order denying approval of the final report; however, we remand this case to the district court for clarification of the sanction.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS.

A guardianship was established in 2009 shortly after D.J.M. was born. D.J.M.'s biological parents, Roberta and Nathan, consented to the guardianship, and the court appointed Roland and Deanna, Nathan's parents, as guardians. Roberta applied to have the guardianship terminated over the years, including most recently in October 2011. That termination application proceeded to a two-day trial in August 2012. The court issued its decision September 28, 2012, continuing the guardianship on a temporary basis in order to transition D.J.M. to Roberta's home. The court articulated a transition schedule where Roberta's time with D.J.M. would continue to increase and the guardianship would terminate June 1, 2013, unless any party petitioned for the guardianship to continue. The court found the slow transition period was necessary based on the testimony of D.J.M.'s therapist. The court also found Nathan had the ability to parent D.J.M. but had chosen not to. At that time, Nathan supported the continuation of the guardianship.

The guardians did not appeal the September order, but some time before November 2012, they transitioned D.J.M. to Nathan's home and then filed a "final report" asserting, "The child's father has moved to his own residence and the child had been transitioned to his residence during the Guardian's primary caretaking time. The Guardians are no longer actively caring for the child as the parents have assumed responsibility." Roberta filed a response to the final report and a request for sanctions asserting that the final report and a child custody case recently filed by Nathan in district court were attempts to circumvent the September order. Roberta asserted the guardian's actions had wasted the court's time and resources and the guardians' filings had been made for an improper purpose.

The court set a hearing and also issued an Order Sua Sponte directing the guardians to bring D.J.M. back to their home and care for him as described by the September order. The court reminded the guardians that the prior order required them to work with Roberta to transition him into Roberta's full-time care. The court stated it would not permit D.J.M. to live somewhere other than with the guardians without further application and hearing. It also ordered the guardians to provide Roberta within seven days any and all documentation that was needed to comply with the September order including the child's social security card, inoculation records, and birth certificate.

The guardians moved to set aside the sua sponte order claiming the child's therapist was consulted prior to the transition to Nathan's home and they believed the guardianship was no longer necessary. The therapist filed a report that stated D.J.M. was continuing to have behavioral difficulties at school and struggling with transitions. However, since being transitioned to Nathan's home, the actual drop-offs and pick-ups between Nathan and Roberta were going better than in the past when the guardians were involved. The therapist stated that in light of the fact D.J.M. was already transitioned to Nathan's home, transitioning him back to the guardian's home for a few weeks until custody/placement is determined would be unnecessary.

The court heard the motions of the parties in a consolidated hearing on December 17, 2012. It filed its decision December 20, declining to set aside its sua sponte order, declining to approve the final report of the guardians, keeping the guardianship open as set forth in the September order, and sanctioning the guardians $300 for failing to abide by the previous orders. The court found the guardians unilaterally decided to disregard the orders of the court and place D.J.M. in Nathan's home. The court ...


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