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In re J.T.

Court of Appeal of Iowa

June 12, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF J.T. AND R.T., Minor Children, T.G., Mother, Appellant, C.T., Father Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Louise M. Jacobs, District Associate Judge.

A mother and father separately appeal the district court order terminating their parental rights.

Nancy L. Pietz of Pietz Law Office, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

Michael J. Piper of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant father.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Katherine S. Miller-Todd, Assistant Attorney General, John Sarcone, County Attorney, and Annette Taylor, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee State.

Erin Mayfield of the Youth Law Center, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

VOGEL, P.J.

A mother, Tabitha, appeals the district court order terminating her parental rights to her children, R.T. (born 2009) and J.T. (born 2010).[1] R.T.'s father, Clinton, also appeals the order terminating his parental rights. Tabitha's rights were terminated pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(d) (2011) (adjudicated child in need of assistance (CINA) for physical abuse or neglect, circumstances continue despite services), (h) (child three or younger, adjudicated CINA, removed from home for six of last twelve months, and child cannot be returned home), (i) (child CINA, child because of abuse of neglect was in imminent danger, services would not correct conditions), and (l) (child CINA, parent has substance abuse problem, child cannot be returned home within a reasonable time). Clinton's rights were terminated pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(d), (h), and (i). Both parents argue the State has not proved the statutory elements by clear and convincing evidence, there is an exceptionally close bond militating against termination especially since the children are placed with a relative, and termination is not in the children's best interests.

We conduct a de novo review of termination of parental rights proceedings. In re H.S., 805 N.W.2d 737, 745 (Iowa 2011). Although we are not bound by the juvenile court's findings of fact, we do give them weight, especially in assessing the credibility of witnesses. In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010). An order terminating parental rights will be upheld if there is clear and convincing evidence of grounds for termination under section 232.116. Id. Evidence is considered "clear and convincing" when there are no "serious or substantial doubts as to the correctness or conclusions of law drawn from the evidence." Id. When the juvenile court terminates parental rights on more than one statutory ground, we may affirm the juvenile court's order on any ground we find supported by the record. Id. at 707.

I. Statutory Elements

Both parents argue the State has not proved the statutory elements by clear and convincing evidence.[2] We however, agree with the district court and find the elements of section 232.116(1)(i) are satisfied as to each parent.

This family came to the attention of the Department of Human Services in 2011 due to Tabitha caring for the children while under the influence of methamphetamine. The children were adjudicated CINA on January 3, 2012, over a year before the termination hearing. According to the DHS report to the court "Tabitha struggles to be truthful or take any accountability for her [drug] use, lack of insight into the dangers that her use presents with her children, and the people that are around her who are inappropriate and would be a safety concern for her children." Tabitha has never progressed beyond supervised visits. She completed a substance abuse treatment program in December 2012, but relapsed again by January 2013. At the termination hearing Tabitha declined the opportunity to present evidence and told the court "The only evidence I could produce would be sobriety or, you know, a residence and stability; and I don't have that today."

Clinton has struggled to follow through with expectations in a timely manner. He too has struggled to maintain his sobriety and admitted to DHS to using methamphetamine with Tabitha during the pendency of this case. He also declined to present any evidence at the termination hearing. Clinton has a domestic assault causing injury conviction as recent as March, 2011. Clinton did improve his visitation attendance, but did not progress to semi-supervised visits due to a hair stat test coming back positive for methamphetamines and ...


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