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In re A.J.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 10, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.J., Minor Child, P.J., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marion County, Steven W. Guiter, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 232 (2017).

          Ashley M. Sparks of Cooper, Goedicke, Reimer & Reese, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ana Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Charles E. Isaacson, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         This appeal arises out of a proceeding to terminate parental rights filed pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 232 (2017). Paula appeals from an order terminating her parental rights in her child A.J. (born 2008) pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f). On appeal, Paula challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the statutory ground authorizing the termination of her parental rights and whether termination of the parent-child relationship is in the best interest of the child.

         This court reviews termination proceedings de novo. See In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014). The statutory framework authorizing the termination of a parent-child relationship is well established and need not be repeated herein. See In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 39 (Iowa 2010) (setting forth the statutory framework).

         We first address the challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Paula contends there is insufficient evidence supporting the fourth element under section 232.116(1)(f)-that "[t]here is 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 Code § 232.116(1)(f)(4). We have interpreted this to mean the State must prove by "clear and convincing evidence the child[] would be exposed to an appreciable risk of adjudicatory harm if returned to the parent's custody at the time of the termination hearing." In re E.H., No. 17-0615, 2017 WL 2684420, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. June 21, 2017).

         The family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS) in August 2016. At that time, law enforcement was called to the home.

         Upon responding to the call, the officers found the home in a condition unsafe for the child. The apartment was so cluttered it was difficult to walk. The toilet was broken and filled with sewage. There were pills lying loose on the floor. The police found a loaded AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in an unsecured location accessible to the child. IDHS had concerns for the safety of the child due to domestic violence in the home. Paula's paramour resided in the home with Paula and A.J. The paramour was a felon. A.J. reported the paramour frequently beat Paula. A.J. also told IDHS the paramour had pointed the loaded AR-15 at her and told her "you will get what [your] mom's getting" after abusing her mother. IDHS also had concerns about Paula's mental health and possible substance abuse. Paula was arrested for child endangerment, and A.J. was removed from the home.

         On de novo review, we find the State proved by clear and convincing evidence the statutory ground authorizing termination of Paula's parental rights. From the time of removal the department provided the mother with a number of services meant to address the causes giving rise to removal, but the mother was not responsive to the services and failed to address the issues creating an appreciable risk of adjudicatory harm to the child.

         The mother has not maintained safe and appropriate housing for the child. Throughout the majority of this proceeding, Paula lacked any stable housing, alternating between living with friends and homelessness. See, e.g., In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 223 (Iowa 2016) (stating inappropriate housing and inconsistent employment "reflect[ed] [a mother's] prior pattern of irresponsibility and lack of planning when it comes to her children"); In re M.C., No. 17-1184, 2017 WL 4315079, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 27, 2017) (noting the lack of safe and appropriate housing was a "significant detriment in [the parent's] reunification efforts"); In re R.C., No. 03-1134, 2003 WL 22092677, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 10, 2003) (finding, among other ...


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