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In re Emma B.

Supreme Court of Maine

August 29, 2017


          Argued: June 15, 2017

          Jared S. Brewer, Esq. (orally), Schneider & Brewer, Waterville, for appellant Father

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Hunter C. Umphrey, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services.


          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] In this child protection action, the father of Emma B. appeals from a judgment entered in the District Court (Waterville, Mathews, J.) finding that the child is in circumstances of jeopardy, see 22 M.R.S. §§ 4035, 4036 (2016), and ordering that the child be placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services and that the Department cease reunification efforts with him. On appeal, the father does not challenge the jeopardy order on its merits but rather argues that the court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the child protection petition as to him for lack of personal jurisdiction. We conclude that, to have the authority to issue a jeopardy order that will protect the child, the court was not required to have personal jurisdiction over the father, and we therefore affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts found by the court are supported by competent evidence in the record. See In re Cameron B., 2017 ME 18, 10, 154 A.3d 1199. The father lived with the child and mother until the child was approximately six months old, which would have been in early 2008. The parties do not dispute that when the father lived with the mother and the child, they did not reside in Maine.[1] From the time the father no longer lived with the mother and the child until approximately August 2016, he maintained regular contact with the child by means of telephone calls, video chats, social media, and in-person visits once or twice a year. As the mother testified, the child continued to reside primarily with her in New York.

         [¶3] The father is currently incarcerated in Massachusetts. He has never acted as the childs primary caregiver, has not provided resources to the child, and did not intervene when the childs safety was at risk with the mother. While incarcerated and after the Department commenced this child protection proceeding, the father was in contact with the mother by phone and inquired about the well-being of the child, but he has made no arrangements to provide care or otherwise take responsibility for the child.

         [¶4] In late July 2016, the mother relocated from New York to Maine, bringing the child with her, to escape an abusive ex-boyfriend. The mothers current boyfriend moved to Maine with them. The mother had notified the father that she and the child were moving, and the father did not oppose that decision. In their home in Maine, the child was subjected to emotional abuse by her mother and was physically abused by the mothers boyfriend.

         [¶5] The Maine Department of Health and Human Services began an investigation into the childs circumstances after being notified by New York child protective authorities of an open case there and after a neighbor in Maine told police that the child had asked for help. On August 5, 2016, Department and law enforcement officials placed the child in a six-hour hold, see 15 M.R.S. § 3501(1)-(2) (2016), due to the childs unsafe situation and the mothers unwillingness to cooperate. The same day, the Department commenced this child protection proceeding, [2] see 22 M.R.S. § 4032 (2016), and obtained a preliminary child protection order, see 22 M.R.S. §§ 4034, 4036 (2016). The child was immediately placed with a foster family, but after both that and a second foster placement were unable to meet the childs needs, she was psychiatrically hospitalized for several weeks before being discharged to a therapeutic foster home.

         [¶6] At the summary preliminary hearing held on August 22, 2016, see 22 M.R.S. § 4034(4), the father did not appear but the court (E. Walker, J.) determined that he had not been provided with sufficient notice. Subsequently, in November, the father was served with notice of the child protection proceeding at a correctional facility in Massachusetts. After the court (Stanfill, J.) appointed counsel to represent him, see 22 M.R.S. § 4005(2) (2016), the father filed a motion to dismiss the petition pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2), asserting that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him because he is not a Maine resident, has never traveled to Maine, and otherwise lacks sufficient minimum contacts with Maine. The court (Mathews, J.) denied the motion.

         [¶7] The father did not attend the jeopardy hearing, which was held on December 21, 2016. His attorney was present, however, and renewed the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court denied the motion, reasoning that "the nature of the child protection and the emergency and necessary need to address the child-related issues distinguishes this type of process" from divorce cases or child support proceedings. The court also concluded that the circumstances of this action, including the fathers contacts with Maine, satisfied the standard three-part in personam jurisdiction analysis based on Maines long-arm statute. See infra n.3.

         [¶8] At the hearing, the mother agreed to the issuance of a jeopardy order as to her, which included a requirement that the Department file a proposed reunification plan as to her. On January 19, 2017, the court issued a written jeopardy order as to the father. The court found that he "has never interceded on Emmas behalf. He has failed to protect her; failed to take responsibility for her and by failing to appear after being duly noticed to do so, he has abandoned her as contemplated" by 22 M.R.S. § 4002(1-A)(E) (2016). The court ordered that the child remain in the custody of the Department. Because the jeopardy order against the ...

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