Submitted On Briefs: July 23, 2015
On the briefs:
Randy G. Day, Esq., Garland, for appellant father
Joseph P. Belisle, Esq., Bangor, for appellant mother
Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Hunter C. Umphrey, 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 HUMPHREY, JJ.
[¶1] The parents of B.P. appeal from a judgment entered by the District Court (Newport, Fowle, J.) terminating their parental rights to B.P., their son, pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and (B)(2) (2014). The parents primarily challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the District Court's finding that they are not fit to parent B.P. We affirm the judgment.
[¶2] This case began when the state police responded to a physical altercation between the mother and the father that occurred in B.P.'s presence on July 3, 2012, when B.P. was just over a year old. During the assault, the mother hit the father, knocking one of his teeth out. Subsequently, B.P. was removed from the family home with custody granted to the Department of Health and Human Services through a preliminary protection order. On November 5, 2012, the District Court entered a jeopardy order, finding that both the mother and father had abused substances and exposed the child to domestic violence. The Department placed B.P. in foster care with his maternal great aunt and uncle pending reunification with the parents.
[¶3] In July 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition to terminate the parents' parental rights. After several continuances, the termination hearing began in April 2014. Because the father was demonstrating an improved capacity to safely parent B.P., the court recessed the hearing and entered a judicial review order establishing a new reunification plan as to the father. The plan contained a timeline toward trial placement of B.P. in the father's home with an ultimate goal of reunification with the father. By agreement of the parties, the judicial review order that created the reunification plan contained several conditions, including (1) a strict prohibition of contact, direct or indirect, between the father and the mother, and (2) an order that the father continue counseling. The agreed-to order containing the reunification plan for the father also included a cease reunification order with respect to the mother.
[¶4] In a judicial review order dated October 8, 2014, the court noted that B.P.'s trial placement with his father had begun two days earlier. The order also included the court's finding that the father "has continued to participate in services, " and that supervised visits would continue for the mother. Less than seven weeks later, on November 24, 2014, the Department removed B.P. from the trial placement with his father and returned him to the care of the foster parents. The termination of parental rights hearing was resumed. In late December 2014 and January 2015, the trial on the petition for termination of parental rights was completed. The court entered a judgment terminating each parent's parental rights on February 5, 2015. The court found the following facts by clear and convincing evidence, and its findings are supported by competent evidence in the record. See In re K.M., 2015 ME 79, ¶ 9, 118 A.3d 812.
[¶5] The mother has been convicted of drug trafficking, domestic violence assault, and theft. She has not been in drug treatment since April 2013 and failed to complete anger management counseling. Her challenges limit her ability to take care of herself, let alone her child.
[¶6] The father, unbeknownst to the Department at the time, had unilaterally withdrawn from counseling in August 2014, four months after the termination hearing had been recessed to allow for additional reunification efforts, and had been having contact with the mother. It was only because the court, the Department, and the GAL were operating on the assumption that the father was complying with the ...