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In re A.Z.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 10, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.Z., Minor Child, M.Z., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Webster County, Angela L. Doyle, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals from an order terminating her parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 232 (2018).

          Douglas Cook of Cook Law Office, Jewell, for appellant mother.

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

          Sarah J. Livingston of Thatcher, Tofilon & Livingston, PLC, Fort Dodge, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          MCDONALD, JUDGE.

         A mother, Miranda, appeals from an order terminating her parental rights in her child, A.Z., pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) and (l) (2018). Miranda challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the statutory grounds authorizing termination of her parental rights, challenges the juvenile court's determination the State made reasonable efforts to facilitate reunification of the family, and argues termination of her parental rights is not in the child's best interest. She also contends the juvenile court erred in denying her request for an additional six months' time to work toward reunification with the child.

         I.

         We review 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. See In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472-73 (Iowa 2018). The burden is on the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence (1) the statutory ground or grounds authorizing the termination of parental rights and (2) "termination of parental rights is in the best interest[ ] of the child[ ]." See In re E.H., No. 17-0615, 2017 WL 2684420, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. June 21, 2017). Even where the State proves its case, however, the juvenile court has the discretion to preserve the parent-child relationship where the parent proves by clear and convincing evidence a statutory factor allowing preservation of the parent-child relationship. See Iowa Code § 232.116(3) (setting forth permissive factors to avoid the termination of parental rights); AS., 906 N.W.2d at 476 (stating it is the parent's burden to prove an exception to termination).

         II.

         A.

         We first address the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the termination of Miranda's parental rights. Where, as here, "the juvenile court terminates parental rights on more than one statutory ground, we may affirm the juvenile court's order on any ground we find supported by the record." In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 774 (Iowa 2012). We focus on Code section 232.116(1)(h). Miranda only challenges the evidence supporting the fourth element under section 232.116(1)(h), which requires "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." Cf. E.H., 2017 WL 2684420, at *1.

         Miranda came to the attention of The Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS) in June 2016 due to her use of methamphetamine while caring for her two older children, who are the subjects of pending assistance cases and not at issue in this appeal. IDHS removed the children from Miranda's care but returned them to her care after Miranda successfully completed an inpatient treatment program in November 2016. After completing the inpatient treatment program, Miranda failed to maintain contact with IDHS workers and failed to comply with her outpatient treatment. She relapsed and tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, and Ecstasy in December. She was quickly readmitted into the same inpatient treatment program, and the children were placed in her care. She was also pregnant with A.Z. at this time. Although Miranda ...


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