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In re L.F.

Court of Appeal of Iowa

November 6, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF L.F. and B.F., Minor Children, M.C., Mother, Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Deborah Farmer Minot, District Associate Judge.

A mother appeals the juvenile court's dispositional order in a child-in-need of assistance proceeding.

William N. Toomey of Phelan, Tucker, Mullen, Walker, Tucker, & Gelman, L.L.P., Iowa City, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Bruce Kempkes, Assistant Attorney General, Janet M. Lyness, County Attorney, and Patricia Wier and Emily Voss, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

Sally Peck, Iowa City, for father. Anthony Haughton, Cedar Rapids, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

Constance Peschang Stannard, Iowa City, for grandparent.

Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

TABOR, J.

The juvenile court placed two-year-old B.F. and his four-year-old sister L.F. in the custody of their paternal grandparents under the protective supervision of the Department of Human Services (DHS) after finding clear and convincing evidence B.F. suffered physical injuries "too numerous to count" while in the care of his mother and her fiancé. The mother challenges that finding in the dispositional order and argues the children should be returned to her care.

While we review the record de novo, we defer to the juvenile court's findings of fact, especially when its determination depends on the credibility of witnesses whom the court heard and observed firsthand during "three long days of testimony." See In re D.T., 435 N.W.2d 323, 329 (Iowa 1989). In its seventeen-page, single-spaced dispositional order, the juvenile court recounted in detail testimony and investigations involving these two children and produced a meticulous timeline of events leading up to their removal from parental custody. Ultimately, the court stated:

There is no doubt [B.F.] was physically abused, that abuse was severe, and that it was perpetrated by an adult. The evidence is clear and convincing that the abuse occurred on January 5 or 6, 2013, at the home of [B.F.'s] mother, Mary, and her fiancé, Mario. As his caretakers, they bear joint responsibility, although neither has accepted any responsibility, and unfortunately, the evidence does not establish which of them hurt [B.F.].

After reviewing the evidence anew, we harbor no serious doubts about the correctness of the juvenile court's factual findings or the conclusions it has drawn from the record. Accordingly, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Mary and Matt are the parents of L.F., who was born in June 2009, and B.F., who was born in November 2010. In 2011 the parents separated and entered into a shared custody agreement. Matt has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and struggles with sobriety. He lives with his parents, Patrick and Jane. Because Matt's medications affect his ability to care for the children, Patrick and Jane ensure another adult is available when B.F. and L.F. are in their father's care. After the separation from Matt, Mary initially lived with her father Randy.[1]In October 2012, Mary moved in with Mario, a divorced man who shares custody of his young daughter. Mary and Mario are both phlebotomists in Iowa ...


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