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In re J.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 10, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF J.C., Minor Child, B.C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jefferson County, William S. Owens, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother challenges the juvenile court's subject matter jurisdiction to terminate her parental relationship with a son placed with an out-of-state relative.

          Larry J. Brock of Brock Law Office, Washington, for appellant mother.

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

          Katie E. M. Lujan of Lloyd, McConnell, Davis & Lujan, LLP, Washington, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A mother, Bracie, appeals the termination of her parental rights to her son, J.C. She contends the juvenile court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the termination proceedings under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), enacted as Iowa Code chapter 598B. Bracie does not otherwise dispute the termination order. After our independent evaluation, [1] we conclude the juvenile court retained jurisdiction over the child, placed with relatives in Texas, by virtue of the Iowa Interstate Compact on Placement of Children (ICPC). See Iowa Code § 232.158 (2017).

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         J.C. was born in Iowa in August 2013. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved with the family in June 2014 after receiving reports Bracie cared for J.C. while under the influence of methamphetamine. A month later, the State petitioned to adjudicate J.C. as a child in need of assistance (CINA). The juvenile court set a hearing for October 2014 and placed J.C. in the temporary custody of his maternal great-grandmother, Carol. J.C.'s maternal aunt, Rikki, lived with Carol and helped with J.C.'s care. J.C.'s father, Ashton, lived in Bexar County, Texas, and had not been involved in J.C.'s life. After receiving notice of the CINA proceedings, Ashton took steps to be an active parent and expressed a desire to be a placement option for J.C. Meanwhile, Bracie traveled to Texas and had minimal contact with the caseworkers assigned to the family.

         Following an October 2014 hearing, the juvenile court adjudicated J.C. a CINA under Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(c)(2), (g) and (n) (2014).[2] Bracie appeared through counsel, and Ashton appeared telephonically. The court determined J.C. should remain with Carol, but directed the DHS to conduct paternity testing to open the possibility of placing J.C. in Ashton's care. The court set a disposition hearing for November 2014. Before the November hearing, the DHS learned Carol planned to leave town for several months in early 2015. Rikki intervened, and the court granted her temporary custody of J.C.

         J.C. remained in Rikki's care until April 2015, when the DHS learned Rikki was involved in the use and distribution of marijuana from the apartment where she and J.C. were living. The juvenile court returned J.C. to the custody of DHS so it could place him in foster care. The next month, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) completed and approved the home study requested by the Iowa DHS under the ICPC so J.C. could be placed in Ashton's care in Texas. The juvenile court placed J.C. with Ashton in Texas and ordered the Iowa DHS to monitor the placement through the ICPC in coordination with the Texas DFPS.

         In the interim, the DHS repeatedly tried to reach Bracie and provide her services but was unsuccessful. At a December 2015 permanency hearing, both the DHS and J.C.'s guardian ad litem (GAL) expressed satisfaction with Ashton's care for J.C. in Texas. The juvenile court continued the placement. But the juvenile court also granted "[t]he [d]istrict [c]ourt in Iowa, or its equivalent in the [s]tate of Texas . . . concurrent jurisdiction to enter appropriate custodial orders on behalf of the child" per the DHS's request. The Texas court took no action.

         J.C. remained with his father until June 2016, when Texas authorities revoked Ashton's probation and sentenced him to eighteen months in prison. Ashton entrusted J.C.'s care to the child's aunt, Ashley, who also resided in Texas. The Texas DFPS completed an expedited request by the Iowa DHS for a home study. And in August 2016, the juvenile court granted Ashley's temporary custody of J.C.

         In late 2016 Ashley expressed a desire to become J.C.'s permanent caretaker. The DHS and GAL believed Ashley was diligent in meeting J.C.'s needs. Given the successful placement, the juvenile court modified the permanency goal as "guardianship to a relative." The juvenile court further directed Ashley to seek a custodial order in the Texas courts.[3] The juvenile court reaffirmed these findings after a March 2017 permanency hearing. At this point, the DHS did not believe termination of Bracie's rights was necessary.

         In May 2017, Ashley filed a petition in Bexar County, Texas, requesting the district court appoint her as J.C.'s "sole managing conservator."[4] In July 2017, J.C.'s maternal grandmother, Debra, moved to intervene in the Bexar County proceedings, asking the court to appoint her as a "non-parent possessory conservator" of J.C., "since the mother's supervised access and ...

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