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In re C.A.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

March 19, 2015

IN RE C.A

Submitted On Briefs: December 18, 2014.

Wendy Moulton Starkey, Esq., Rose Law, LLC, York, for appellant mother.

Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, and JABAR, JJ.

OPINION

Page 1099

JABAR, J.

[¶1] The mother of C.A. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Biddeford, Foster, J.) terminating her parental rights pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2) (2014).[1] The mother contends that the evidence was not sufficient to support the court's finding of parental unfitness and that the court abused its discretion in determining that termination of her parental rights is in the child's best interest. We affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The trial court found the following facts, which are supported by the record. See In re Higera N., 2010 ME 77, ¶ 2, 2 A.3d 265. The child was born ten weeks premature on October 12, 2012, and spent the first six weeks of his life in the neo-natal intensive care unit. On December 31, 2012, after the child had been in his parents' home for approximately four weeks, the mother left the child in the father's care to attend an appointment. When the mother returned, she noticed bruises on the child's feet. Later that day, the mother took the child to receive a scheduled immunization, and the child's pediatrician observed the bruises and directed her to report them to the Department of Health and Human Services. After speaking with the father, the mother decided to wait until January 2, after the New Year's Day holiday, to call the Department. However, the child's pediatrician did not wait. She reported the bruising on December 31, and the Department

Page 1100

immediately dispatched a caseworker to see the child and meet with the parents.

[¶3] Staff at the Spurwink Child Abuse Clinic, who evaluated the child with the parents' consent, determined that the bruises could not have been accidentally inflicted or self-inflicted and that they were most likely caused by inappropriate squeezing of the feet. Based on this assessment, the Department petitioned for a preliminary order of protection, received custody of the child on January 3, 2013, and placed him with his maternal grandmother. On February 8, 2013, the parties agreed to the entry of a jeopardy order. In that order, the court accepted Spurwink's assessment concerning the likely cause of the bruising, and stated, " Though this injury itself might be viewed as relatively minor, this infant is extremely vulnerable and would be at continued risk for further, perhaps more significant and life threatening injury if he were returned to the home environment where these injuries occurred."

[¶4] From January to August, the parents worked to satisfy the terms of the reunification and rehabilitation plan, see 22 M.R.S. § 4041(1-A)(A), (B) (2014), and on August 9, 2013, the Department authorized a trial placement of the child with them. One month later, the Department received a report from the maternal grandmother's wife that the child had bruises on his face that looked like fingerprints.

[¶5] The Department's caseworker responded to the report by immediately making an unannounced visit to the family home. When the caseworker asked to see the child, the mother told her that the child had fallen against the coffee table on September 5 and had bruises on his face. The father then told the mother not to lie for him and related that, while he had been alone with the child on September 5, the child had fallen while standing at the coffee table, and that he had accidentally inflicted the bruises by grabbing the child's face in an attempt to break the ...


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