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In re J.J.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 15, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.J., Minor Child, D.J., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Romonda Belcher, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights.

          Blake D. Lubinus of Lubinus Law Firm, PLLC, Des Moines, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          William E. Sales III of Sales Law Firm, P.C., Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his minor child. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the grounds for termination and contends termination is not in the child's best interests. The father additionally challenges the denial of his motion to reconsider, enlarge, or amend the juvenile court's findings.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         D.J., the father, and M.M., the mother, are the parents of J.J., born in 2016. The mother has children from other relationships. J.J. came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in March 2017 after the father caused a large bruise to the eye of one of the mother's other children. While DHS investigated the injury, it received additional reports about the parents' drug use and the father's physical abuse of J.J. The mother reported the father grabbed and threw a car seat that J.J. was then buckled into out of a vehicle, causing the child to fall out of the car seat and land on the pavement. This led to J.J. hitting her head on the pavement. When the mother attempted to care for the child, the father physically assaulted the mother, which resulted in the child suffering further bruising and abrasions. The parents did not take the child to the hospital immediately, and the mother lied to the police after they arrived to do a welfare check based on a witness report.

         Once J.J. received medical care, doctors discovered a skull fracture and an older, healing leg fracture. DHS informed the mother that the father should not have contact with her or the children. However, after the child was discharged from the hospital, the mother returned to the father. The father attacked the mother again with the child present. The child was removed from the parents' care and initially placed with the maternal grandmother but was subsequently moved into foster care. DHS returned founded child-abuse assessments against the father for denial of critical care and physical abuse for the injuries sustained by both J.J. and the mother's other child.

         The father was arrested for domestic assault and child endangerment, and a protective order was established preventing the father's contact with either the mother or the child. He ultimately pled guilty to domestic abuse, third offense. The father remained incarcerated during the entirety of the pendency of this case and did not have visitation with the child. He has a history of domestic violence toward the mother and previous paramours, including two domestic-abuse-assault convictions, and he is the subject of several protective orders. The father also has a history of ignoring and violating protective orders. During the pendency of this case, the father tried to contact the mother while in jail, despite the protective order. His parental rights to another child were terminated in September 2016 due to his unresolved substance-abuse and physical-violence issues.

         The juvenile court adjudicated the child in need of assistance (CINA) in May 2017. In January 2018, the father requested modification of the protective order between himself and the child so visitation could occur. In May, the district court granted the modification, stating the father and child "may have contact by DHS recommendation and through their supervision." In its September report to the court, DHS stated that, despite the modification of the protective order, it had not yet offered visitation between the child and father. It stated its reasoning for the denial was due in part to the distance between the child's foster-care placement and the prison where the father was located. DHS's "best practice for young children is visits that are happening for shorter amounts of time and more frequently." Since the prison was two hours away from the child's foster home, it would require the child to be in a car for four hours to have a short visit with the father. Given that the father had not seen the child for over a year and the child's young age, DHS felt this arrangement would not be in the child's best interests. Further, DHS remained concerned about the father's reported denial of harming the child when he threw the car seat. The juvenile court ultimately terminated the father's parental rights to J.J. in December 2018. The father appeals.[1]

         II. ...

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