IN THE INTEREST OF L.J., Minor Child, L.J., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Rachael E.
Seymour, District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the order terminating her parental rights to
DeRonde of DeRonde Law Firm, PLLC, Johnston, for appellant
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Gretchen Witte Kraemer,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
Kathryn Miller of Juvenile Public Defender, Des Moines,
attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.
Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Schumacher, JJ.
L.J.'s infant brother, C.J., died after their mother gave
him an overdose of Benadryl in January 2018. The family was
living in room 207 of the Motel Relax when the mother found
C.J. unresponsive. L.J. and her older sister were sleeping on
cots in the room when police responded to their mother's
911 call. The State charged the mother with child
endangerment and obtained a no-contact order preventing the
mother from interacting with her daughters. More than one
year after the State removed L.J. from her mother's care,
the child continued to have nightmares about her
months after removal, the juvenile court terminated the
mother's parental relationship with L.J. The mother
appeals that termination order, contesting the statutory
grounds under Iowa Code section 232.116(1) (2019), the
best-interests determination under section 232.116(2), and
the Court's decision to not apply the permissive factor
in section 232.116(3)(c). She also claims the State did not
make reasonable efforts to reunite her with L.J. Like the
juvenile court, we see the mother's pattern of neglect as
blocking her path to reunification with L.J. After our
independent review of the record, we affirm the termination
of parental rights.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
her two daughters in tow and nine months pregnant with C.J.,
the mother moved from Alabama to Iowa in the summer of 2017.
She did so in violation of an Alabama court order placing
custody of the older daughter with her father. The mother
alleges the father had a history of assaulting her. At the
time of her move, Alabama child protection workers were
investigating the mother for leaving four-year-old L.J. home
alone. The mother minimized the incident, claiming she went
to the store to get milk while L.J. was asleep in bed. About
the same time, the mother sent her two teenaged sons to live
with their father in Tennessee, though they had not been in
his care before.
Iowa, the mother stayed with relatives before moving into a
motel with her three children. In mid-January 2018, police
arrived at the motel to investigate an assault against the
mother by her paramour. The paramour admitted strangling the
mother while she was holding six-month-old C.J. in the motel
hallway. Police arrested the paramour, and the mother
obtained a no-contact order.
week later, police and paramedics returned to the motel to
find a lifeless infant in the room with the mother and her
two daughters. The room was littered with dirty clothes and
garbage; liquor and medicine bottles were accessible to the
children. At the scene, the mother said C.J. was sleeping in
her bed when she awoke in the early morning hours to find him
not breathing. But others in the motel told police that after
midnight they had seen and heard the mother in another room
in the motel, a floor away from the room where her children
slept. The mother told emergency responders she had not given
the baby any drugs. She later admitted giving him a
"little bit of Benadryl" because he was fussy. An
autopsy revealed the baby had "acute diphenhydramine
intoxication." The toxicology report described
diphenhydramine as "a sedating over-the-counter
medication." In connection with C.J.'s death, the
State charged the mother with felony child endangerment. She
pleaded guilty to a lesser-included aggravated misdemeanor.
The sentencing order prohibited the mother from having
contact with her daughters.
surprisingly, C.J.'s death shattered this already fragile
family. After the mother faced criminal charges, the Iowa
Department of Human Services (DHS) removed L.J. from her
care. The juvenile court adjudicated L.J. as a child in need
of assistance (CINA) in May 2018. The next month, in a
dispositional order, the court noted L.J. "displayed
behavioral issues while in shelter which made her difficult
to place, and has suffered the trauma of the death of a
sibling, separation from another sibling and separation from
her mother in the last five months." ...