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In re L.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF L.C. and K.C., Minor Children, A.C., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clay County, Charles K. Borth, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals from termination of his parental rights to two children.

          Michael H. Johnson of Johnson Law Firm, Spirit Lake, for appellant father.

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

          Shawna L. Ditsworth of Ditsworth Law, Spirit Lake, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., Vogel, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]


         A.C., father of L.C. and K.C., appeals the court's order terminating his parental rights to his two children. Upon our de novo review of the record, we affirm.

         I. Standard of Review.

         This court reviews termination proceedings de novo. See In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014). When a juvenile court relies on multiple statutory grounds to terminate a parent's rights, we are at liberty to affirm its ruling on any one of the supported grounds. See In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 774 (Iowa 2012).

         Clear and convincing evidence is needed to establish the grounds for termination. In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006). Where there is clear and convincing evidence, there is no serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusion drawn from the evidence. In re D.D., 653 N.W.2d 359, 361 (Iowa 2002). The paramount concern in termination proceedings is the best interests of the child. In re L.L., 459 N.W.2d 489, 493 (Iowa 1990).

[T]he proper analysis under [Iowa Code chapter] 232 is first for the court to determine if a ground for termination exists under section 232.116(1) [(2018)]. If a ground exists, the court may terminate a parent's parental rights. Iowa Code § 232.116(1). In considering whether to terminate, "the court shall give primary consideration to the child's safety, to the best placement for furthering the long-term nurturing and growth of the child, and to the physical, mental, and emotional condition and needs of the child." Id. § 232.116(2). Any findings in this regard should be contained in the judge's decision. Finally, before terminating a parent's parental rights, the court must consider if any of the exceptions contained in section 232.116(3) allow the court not to terminate. Id. § 232.116(3).

In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 39 (Iowa 2010).

          II. Facts and Procedural Background.

         On January 12, 2017, a child protective assessment was initiated by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) based on an allegation that the father, A.C., and mother, H.B., got into a physical fight-A.C. kicked H.B. in the stomach- in the presence of L.C., who was six months old at the time. It was also determined that A.C. and H.B. were using marijuana while caring for L.C. L.C. was removed and placed in the custody of his paternal grandmother. Following an uncontested hearing on March 17, L.C. was adjudicated as a child in need of assistance (CINA), under Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(b), (c)(2), and (n) (2017). The court ordered L.C.'s custody to remain with his paternal grandmother. A CINA dispositional hearing was held on April 7, and the court again ordered L.C. remain in the custody of his paternal grandmother subject to protective supervision by DHS.

         H.B. gave birth to K.C. in June 2017. Upon the State's application for ex parte emergency removal filed June 12, the court placed K.C. in the custody of DHS for placement in family foster care, which took place directly from the hospital.[1] The court was later advised that K.C.'s meconium test at birth was positive for marijuana. Following an emergency removal hearing held on June 16, the court ordered K.C. remain in the custody of DHS and continued placement in family foster care. Following an adjudicatory hearing on July 7, K.C. was adjudicated as a CINA under section 232.2(6)(c)(2), (g), and (n). On August 18, the court held a CINA review hearing in L.C.'s case and simultaneous CINA dispositional hearing in K.C.'s case and again ordered that custody of these children remain as previously set. Timely CINA review hearings were held with the children remaining in placement.

         On January 3, 2018, the State filed its petition to terminate parental rights of A.C. and H.B. to L.C. and K.C. The petition as to A.C. alleged termination was appropriate under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) and (l) (2018). Both A.C. and H.B were properly served with the petition. After a continuance, the termination hearing was held on February 27. H.B. failed to attend the termination hearing, ...

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