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In re R.W.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 5, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF R.W., Minor child, K.W., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Mark R. Fowler, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          Karmen R. Anderson of Anderson Law Firm, Des Moines, and Rebecca G. Ruggero, Davenport, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Gretchen W. Kraemer, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Jean Capdevila, Davenport, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Vaitheswaran, JJ.

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child, R.W. The mother contends the State failed to prove grounds for termination, termination is not in R.W.'s best interests, her due process rights were violated, and reasonable efforts were not made toward reunification. Because we find the mother's fundamental right to a fair hearing was not provided, we reverse and remand for a new termination hearing before a different judge.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         R.W. was born in 2012. In September 2015, the mother was found unresponsive in a parking lot and did not know where then two-year-old R.W. was or who was caring for him. R.W. was later located in a hotel room being cared for by a thirteen-year-old girl. The mother tested positive for cocaine. R.W. was removed following the incident. The mother has longstanding substance-abuse and mental-health issues that previously led to the termination of her parental rights to three other children.

         Notwithstanding the concerning start to the child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) case, the mother made progress during its pendency and was exercising visitation up to the day of the termination hearing. After R.W.'s removal, the mother began complying with services provided by the department of human services (DHS) and participating in substance-abuse treatment and mental-health counseling. Concerns remained, including the mother's refusal to internalize her substance-abuse problem, the one-time discovery of alcoholic beverages in the mother's home, and the mother's association with a known sex offender.

         The district court entered a permanency order on May 21, 2016, granting the mother three additional months to seek reunification. The termination petition was filed on July 13, 2016. The mother filed a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, to continue the termination hearing on August 4, 2016. The termination hearing was held August 24, 2016. The district court imposed a two-hour time limit on the termination hearing. The court entered the termination order on October 17, 2016, terminating the mother's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f), (h), and (l) (2016), and placing R.W. in the care of his paternal aunt as the child's guardian. The mother now appeals.

         II. Standard of Review.

         We review the mother's due-process challenges to the district court's termination ruling de novo. In re ...


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