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In re E.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2020

IN THE INTEREST OF E.C., A.C., and L.C., Minor Children, R.W., Father of E.C., Appellant, S.C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Charles D. Fagan, District Associate Judge.

         A father and mother separately appeal the termination of their parental rights.

          Patricia Scheinost of Southwest Iowa Law Office, Council Bluffs, for appellant father.

          Sara E. Benson of Benson Law, P.C., Council Bluffs, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Maura C. Goaley, Council Bluffs, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., Mullins, J., and Vogel, S.J. [*]

          VOGEL, SENIOR JUDGE.

         A mother, S.C., and father, R.W., separately appeal the termination of their parental rights. The children are E.C., born in November 2017; A.C., born in July 2014; and L.C., born in June 2013. R.W., is the biological father of E.C., as established through paternity testing during the juvenile proceedings, although D.C. is listed as the father on all three children's birth certificates.[1]

         The mother and D.C. were married to each other at the beginning of these proceedings, but they separated and entered into relationships with other persons before the termination hearing. The family initially came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) when E.C. was born in November 2017 and both the mother and child tested positive for THC. DHS again became involved with the family in May 2018 upon allegations D.C. had assaulted the mother in their home with the children present. A few days later, the mother provided a urine sample, which tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamines, and THC. On May 30, the children were removed from the home. Shortly after removal, the mother reported she suspected R.W. to be E.C.'s biological father.

         On September 4, 2018, the juvenile court adjudicated the children as being in need of assistance. On July 26, 2019, the State filed to terminate the parental rights of the mother, D.C., and R.W. On September 26, the juvenile court held a hearing on the matter. On October 14, the juvenile court issued its order terminating the rights of all three parents. We review termination proceedings de novo. In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40 (Iowa 2010). We give weight to the juvenile court's factual findings, but they do not bind us. In re M.D., 921 N.W.2d 229, 232 (Iowa 2018). The paramount concern is the child's best interests. Id.

         First, the mother and R.W. challenge the statutory grounds for termination. "When 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). The grounds for termination under Iowa Code section 232.116(1) (2019) include paragraph (f)[2] as to A.C. and L.C. and paragraph (h)[3] as to E.C. Both parents concede all elements under both paragraphs except for the finding that the children could not be returned to them at the time of the hearing. See Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(f)(4), (h)(4).

         The mother has an admitted history of methamphetamine and marijuana use. From June 2018 through August 2019, she only provided two samples for drug testing, both of which tested positive. At the termination hearing, she claimed she had been sober for ten months but acknowledged a drug screen taken that day would be positive for THC. She did not complete a substance-abuse evaluation until May 2019, almost a year after removal. She has since engaged in little to no substance-abuse treatment. She lives with her new paramour, whose own children have been removed from his care.

         R.W. also has substance-abuse concerns. The only sample he provided for drug testing from September 2018 through March 2019 tested positive for THC. After March 2019, DHS revoked his authorization for drug testing. He completed substance-abuse and mental-health evaluations in December 2018, but he has undergone little to no recommended treatment. His visitations with E.C. were sporadic, and he had not visited with E.C. in the two months prior to the termination hearing. He lives with his new paramour, whose own children have also been removed from her care. Because clear and convincing ...


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