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In re R.P.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF R.P., C.L., and B.T., Minor Children, R.P., Father of R.P., Appellant, T.L., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Colin J. Witt, District Associate Judge.

         Parents separately appeal juvenile court rulings in a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding.

          Daniel M. Northfield, Urbandale, for appellant father. Jesse A. Macro Jr. of Macro & Kozlowski, LLP, West Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Michael Sorci of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., Bower, J., and Scott, S.J. [*]

          SCOTT, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Parents separately appeal juvenile court rulings in a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding. Both parents challenge the termination of their parental rights to a child they share, R.P., born in 2017. The mother additionally appeals the termination of her parental rights to another of her children, C.L., born in 2011.[1] The mother also contests the juvenile court's denial of her motion regarding reasonable efforts as to R.P., C.L., and a third child, B.T., born in 2012.[2]The father argues because R.P. was never "removed" from his care, the evidence is insufficient to support the termination of his parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2018). The mother also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the statutory grounds for termination of her parental rights. Both parents argue termination of their parental rights is not in the children's best interests. Finally, the mother argues the State failed to make reasonable efforts in relation to drug testing.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The children came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in October 2016 upon concern for domestic violence between the mother and father in the children's presence as well as the mother's substance abuse, mental health, and homelessness. The children were formally removed from the mother's care in March 2017. The father was incarcerated at this time. The children were adjudicated to be in need of assistance in April.

          The mother has an extensive history of alcohol and substance abuse. Although we acknowledge the mother has made significant strides in some areas and is able to appropriately parent the children when she is not under the influence, the mother continued to test positive for methamphetamine throughout the life of the case. The mother continues to deny using drugs and refuses to acknowledge it is a problem. The mother also suffers from a number of underlying mental-health issues which negatively affect her ability to appropriately parent the children. The father also has an extensive history of substance abuse spanning more than thirty years. The father was in and out of jail throughout these proceedings and, at the time of the termination hearing, was serving a term of imprisonment with an expected release date in 2021. However, the father testified he was being considered for release on "special parole" about a month after the termination hearing. The father has not meaningfully participated in services, even during periods he was not in jail. The father testified he has completed multiple classes in prison relative to his fitness as a parent. R.P. has spent less than ten hours with his father since his birth in February 2017. The evidence clearly and convincingly establishes there is no bond between R.P. and his father.

         The State ultimately petitioned for termination of parental rights. A hearing was held in August 2018. In October, the juvenile court entered an interim ruling finding the State met its burden for termination of both parents' rights and termination is in the children's best interests.[3] The court ordered an additional hearing be held to consider the potential application of the statutory exceptions to termination contained in Iowa Code section 232.116(3). In November, following said hearing, the court declined to apply a statutory exception to termination as to C.L. and R.P. The court placed those children in DHS custody for relative adoption. However, the juvenile court declined to terminate the mother's rights to B.T., citing the statutory exception to termination contained in Iowa Code section 232.116(3)(a), which permits the court to forego termination if a relative has legal custody of the child. As noted, both parents appeal.

         II. Standard of Review

         Appellate review of termination-of-parental-rights proceedings is de novo. In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472 (Iowa 2018). "We are not bound by the juvenile court's findings of fact, but we do give them weight, especially in assessing the credibility of witnesses." Id. (quoting In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014)). Our primary ...


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