IN THE INTEREST OF M.M., Minor Child, R.M., Father, Appellant, K.C., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Rachael E.
Seymour, District Associate Judge.
appeal from the juvenile court order terminating their
parental rights in their child pursuant to Iowa Code chapter
232 (2016). AFFIRMED AS TO THE FATHER AND REVERSED AND
REMANDED AS TO THE MOTHER.
R. McCormack of Van Cleaf & McCormack Law Firm, L.L.P.,
Des Moines, for appellant father.
R. Anderson of The Law Office of Karmen Anderson, Des Moines,
for appellant mother.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kristi A. Traynor, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Pattison and Joseph Reed of Drake Legal Clinic, Des Moines,
guardian ad litem for minor child.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
mother and the father of M.M. appeal from the juvenile court
order terminating their parental rights in M.M. The juvenile
court terminated the parents' respective rights pursuant
to Iowa Code chapter 232.116(1)(h) (2016). The mother
contends the State failed to prove by clear and convincing
evidence the grounds authorizing termination of her parental
rights. The father does not challenge the State's case.
Instead, he argues, if the mother prevails on her appeal,
then his parental rights should also not be terminated.
"We review proceedings terminating parental rights de
novo." See In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706
relationship between parent and child is constitutionally
protected." Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246,
255 (1978). "[T]he custody, care, and nurture of the
child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and
freedom include preparation for obligations the state can
neither supply nor hinder." Id. (quoting
Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944)).
At the same time, "[t]he State has a duty to assure that
every child within its borders receives proper care and
treatment, and must intercede when parents fail to provide
it." In re A.M., 856 N.W.2d 365, 376 (Iowa
Code chapter 232 codifies the balance our legislature has
struck between these competing interests. Pursuant to section
232.116(1), the State must first prove a statutory ground
authorizing the termination of a parent's rights. See
In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 39 (Iowa 2010). Second,
pursuant to section 232.116(2), the State must prove
termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the
child. See id. Third, if the State has proved both
the existence of statutory harm and termination of a
parent's rights is in the best interest of the child, the
juvenile court must consider whether any countervailing
considerations set forth in section 232.116(3) should
nonetheless preclude termination of parental rights. See
id. These countervailing considerations are permissive,
not mandatory. See In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 225
(Iowa 2016). "The court has discretion, based on the
unique circumstances of each case and the best interests of
the child, whether to apply the factors in this section to
save the parent-child relationship." In re
D.S., 806 N.W.2d 458, 475 (Iowa Ct. App. 2011) (citing
In re C.L.H., 500 N.W.2d 449, 454 (Iowa Ct. App.
State has the burden to prove its case by clear and
convincing evidence. See Iowa Code § 232.96.
"Clear and convincing evidence is more than a
preponderance of the evidence and less than evidence beyond a
reasonable doubt." In re L.G., 532 N.W.2d 478,
481 (Iowa Ct. App. 1995). It is the highest evidentiary
burden in civil cases. It means there must be no serious or
substantial doubt about the correctness of a particular
conclusion drawn from the evidence. See id. This
significant burden is imposed on the State to minimize the
risk of an erroneous deprivation of the parent's
fundamental liberty interest in raising his or her child.
See Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 759 (1982). We
therefore cannot rubber stamp what has come before; it is our
task to ensure the State has come forth with the quantum and
quality of evidence necessary to prove each of the elements
of its case. See id. at 769 ("A majority of the
States have concluded that a 'clear and convincing
evidence' standard of proof strikes a fair balance
between the rights of the natural parents and the State's
legitimate concerns. We hold that such a standard adequately
conveys to the factfinder the level of subjective certainty
about his factual conclusions necessary to satisfy due
juvenile court terminated each parent's respective rights
pursuant to section 232.116(1)(h). This section requires the
State to prove by "clear and convincing evidence that
the child cannot be returned to the custody of the
child's parents as provided in section 232.102 at the
present time." Iowa
§ 232.116(1)(h)(4). "[A] child cannot be returned
to the parent under Iowa Code section 232.102 if by doing so
the child would be exposed to any harm amounting to a new
child in need of assistance adjudication." In re
M.M., 483 N.W.2d 812, 814 (Iowa 1992). We have
interpreted this to mean the State must establish the child
would be exposed to "an appreciable risk of adjudicatory
harm within the meaning of section 232.102" ...