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In re J.D.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 13, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF J.D. and D.D., Minor Children, S.D., Mother, Appellant, D.D., Father, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Julie A. Schumacher, Judge.

         Parents appeal the termination of their parental rights. AFFIRMED ON BOTH APPEALS.

          Craig H. Lane, Sioux City, for appellant mother.

          Harold K. Widdison of Law Office of Harold K. Widdison, P.C., Sioux City, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Marchelle Denker of Juvenile Law Center, Sioux City, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          DOYLE, Judge.

         S.D. and D.D. are the parents of two children; their younger child was born in 2011. In May 2017, the juvenile court terminated the parents' parental rights, finding statutory grounds for termination under paragraphs (f) and (l) of Iowa Code section 232.116(1) (2017). The court also concluded termination of their parental rights was in the children's best interests. Both parents appeal. Upon our de novo review, we affirm.

         I. Standard of Review and Statutory Framework.

         Parental rights may be terminated under Iowa Code chapter 232 if the following three conditions are met: (1) a "ground for termination under section 232.116(1) has been established" by clear and convincing evidence, (2) "the best-interest framework as laid out in section 232.116(2) supports the termination of parental rights, " and (3) none of the "exceptions in section 232.116(3) apply to preclude termination of parental rights."[1] In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219-20 (Iowa 2016). Our review is de novo, which means we give the juvenile court's findings of fact weight, especially the court's credibility assessments, but we are not bound by those findings. See In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010); see also In re B.B., 440 N.W.2d 594, 596 (Iowa 1989). If the juvenile court has found more than one statutory ground for termination, as is the case here, "we may affirm the . . . termination order on any ground that we find supported by clear and convincing evidence." D.W., 791 N.W.2d at 707. "For evidence to be 'clear and convincing, ' it is merely necessary that there be no serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusion drawn from it." Raim v. Stancel, 339 N.W.2d 621, 624 (Iowa Ct. App. 1983); see also M.W., 876 N.W.2d at 219.

         II. Discussion.

         Here, the record shows that from at least August 2014 until court intervention in early 2016, law enforcement officials repeatedly responded to alcohol- and domestic-violence-related incidents concerning the parents and children. At the termination-of-parental-rights hearing at the end of April 2017, both parents claimed they had addressed their alcohol- and domestic-violence issues and the children could be returned to their care at that time. However, upon our de novo review of the record, we do not find the parents' claims to be credible and agree with the juvenile court that the State showed-by clear and convincing evidence-these children could not be returned to the parents' care at the time of the termination-of-parental-rights hearing.

         Ultimately, this case turns on the parents' credibility-or rather, their lack thereof-and their inability to demonstrate they can put their children's needs before their own. Without rehashing all of the parents' past conduct, a few early incidents are indicative of the overall issues facing these parents. In October 2015, the mother, fleeing an argument with the father, drove while she was significantly intoxicated with the children buckled in the front seat of her car. She initially denied she was intoxicated, claiming she had "had a couple of shots" but "did not feel drunk and that she would never drive drunk ...


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