In the Interest of E.N.R. et al.
Nos. A13A1602, A13A1603.
-- September 05, 2013
Joshua Joseph Smith, for Appellant.Penny Hannah, Bruce A. Kling, Samuel S. Olens, Shalen S. Nelson, for Appellee.
In this consolidated appeal, the mother and father of four minor children appeal an order of the juvenile court finding their children deprived. The parents contend on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile court's judgment. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm the juvenile court's judgment.
The record reflects that on August 23, 2012, the Department of Family and Children Services (“the Department”) filed complaints for deprivation as to 1–year–old E.N. R., 3–year–old J.W. R., 4–year–old J.W. R., and 5–year–old M.N.R. The complaints alleged, inter alia, that the family's home had been condemned on August 15, 2012, and that the parents resisted efforts by the Department and refused to cooperate with provided services in spite of a case plan developed after a prior removal.1 The juvenile court issued an order for shelter care that same day.
Thereafter, on August 30, 2012 (nunc pro tunc August 27, 2012), the juvenile court issued a 72–hour hearing order that, “[b]ased upon the evidence presented and the consent of the parents,” found probable cause to believe that the children were deprived. Thus, the court ordered the Department to maintain temporary custody of the children pending a deprivation petition and adjudicatory hearing. The Department subsequently filed a deprivation petition on August 31, 2012. And following a hearing on September 10, 2012, that was continued on September 17, 2012, the juvenile court issued an order that took judicial notice of its own record, continued custody with the Department, and ordered the parties to return in December for a progress hearing.
The juvenile court held a final hearing on the petition on December 17, 2012, and issued an order that day, taking judicial notice of its prior record and noting that the “findings of the September order are a matter of record.” The court then detailed the services the Department continued to provide to the parents since September and determined that it was “patently clear that although these parents love their children, they are incapable of providing for their needs.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the children were deprived and decided that continuation in the parents' home would be contrary to the children's welfare based on “the findings of the court's September 2012 order, and the fact that the parents are not mentally capable of learning how to meet the daily basic care needs of the children, nor are they capable of providing for them financially at this time.” These appeals by the parents follow.
At the outset, we note that on appeal from a deprivation order, “we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the juvenile court's judgment to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found by clear and convincing evidence that the [children were] deprived.”2 A child is deprived when he or she
[i]s without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for the child's physical, mental, or emotional health or morals; ․ [h]as been placed for care or adoption in violation of law; ․ [h]as been abandoned by his or her parents or other legal custodian; or ․ [i]s without a parent, guardian, or custodian. 3
To authorize even a temporary loss of custody by a child's parent, “the deprivation must be shown to have resulted from unfitness on the part of the parent, that is, either intentional or unintentional misconduct resulting in the abuse or neglect of the child or by what is tantamount to physical or mental incapability to care for the child.”4 And in this regard, it is significant that “an order temporarily transferring custody of a child based on alleged deprivation must be grounded upon a finding that the child is at the present time a deprived child, and a finding of parental unfitness is essential to support an adjudication of present deprivation.”5
In the case sub judice, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's judgment, there is clear and convincing evidence that the children were deprived based on the parents' low level of functioning. At the December hearing, the court heard testimony from a placement prevention program director that the parents had not demonstrated an ability to retain information on what they were taught through Department services—for example, how to properly wash clothing. And in addition to the testimony presented at the December hearing, the juvenile court's final order took judicial notice of the September proceedings (for which the appellate record contains transcripts), and the order issued in September took judicial notice of the family's record as a whole.6 The parents did not object to the taking of judicial notice and, furthermore, do not contend on appeal that the trial court in any way erred by taking judicial notice.7 And because the transcripts and evidence from any proceedings prior to September 2012 were not included in the appellate record, “we must assume the juvenile court's findings and judgment to be correct.”8 In this regard, the September order contained findings that the mother suffered from a brain injury that left her partially paralyzed and with memory deficiency, and that both parents were “low functioning” to the point of being unable to parent or supervise the children.
The finding regarding the mother's disability is supported by an unappealed 72–hour–hearing order that was issued in October 2011, to which the parents consented and of which the juvenile court took judicial notice when it did so as to the family's whole record.9 As to the finding that the parents are low functioning, the first such finding of this appears in the court's September order and, as previously noted, the appellate record contains transcripts of the September 2012 proceedings. During argument in the September 10 proceeding, the Department referenced a “psychological previously entered in this Court's previous action” that “clearly show[ed] that the mother can't be on her own and the father is questionable.” In a subsequent order issued in January 2013—after determining that the children were deprived—the court quotes extensively from psychological evaluations that it notes are “part of the court's record.” These psychological evaluations apparently contained findings that, inter alia, the father has “borderline intellectual functioning with difficulty conceptualizing and with memory”; the father's “competency as a parent is limited in that his ability to independently care for [the children] is questionable”; the father has “limited cognitive ability which is a barrier to his judgment about the children's needs for education and medical care”; the mother has “borderline intellectual abilities” with “many mannerisms and similarities to that of an 8 year old child”; the mother's “ability to competently parent her children is seriously limited”; and the mother's “insight, judgment, and decision-making are limited to such a degree that her children would be at risk of harm in her care without significant assistance.” Accordingly, because the juvenile court took judicial notice of its record as a whole in September, which record apparently contained the psychological evaluations quoted extensively in the court's January order, there was evidence before the juvenile court that would support its finding that the children were deprived due to the parents' low level of functioning and the impact on their abilities to parent.10
For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the juvenile court's judgment in both Case No. A13A1602 and Case No. A13A1603.
I concur specially to note that the record also supports by clear and convincing evidence the juvenile court's other finding of deprivation—that the parents were not capable of providing for the children financially. It was undisputed that the sole source of income was $637 in disability payments and $200 in food stamps, leaving $7 each month after paying bills. Although an additional $600 in food stamps could be obtained if the children were returned, there would still be an insufficient amount for other necessities such as clothing or gas. The parents' precarious financial situation was further demonstrated by the fact that the electricity had been turned off twice in the three months after the September hearing. And during that time, the father did not find consistent employment1 and had not followed through on an application for disability payments.
Accordingly, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the juvenile court's judgment, I believe that there was clear and convincing evidence that the children were deprived for the reasons stated in the majority's opinion and this special concurrence.
ANDREWS, P. J., concurs.McMILLIAN, J., concurs specially.