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In re Anastasia M.

Supreme Court of Maine

November 2, 2017


          On Briefs: October 24, 2017

          Julie-Anne Blanchard, Esq., The Law Office of Julie-Anne Blanchard, LLC, Biddeford, 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 MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] The mother of Anastasia M. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Springvale, Foster, J.) terminating her parental rights to the child pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and (B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2016).[1] She challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support both the court's finding of parental unfitness and its determination that termination is in Anastasia's best interest. Because the evidence supports the court's factual findings and discretionary determination, we affirm the judgment.

         [¶2] Based on competent evidence in the record, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that the mother (1) is unwilling or unable to protect the child from jeopardy within a time reasonably calculated to meet her needs, and (2) is unwilling or unable to take responsibility for her within that timeframe. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii). The court also found that termination of the mother's parental rights is in Anastasia's best interest. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a). We review the factual findings supporting the unfitness determination for clear error, see In re Logan M., 2017 ME 23, ¶ 3, 155 A.3d 430, and apply the same standard to the factual findings supporting the best interest determination, although we review the court's ultimate conclusion that termination is in the child's best interest "for an abuse of discretion, viewing the facts, and the weight to be given them, through the trial court's lens, " and giving the court's judgment "substantial deference, " In re Caleb M., 2017 ME 66, ¶ 33, 159 A.3d 345 (quotation marks omitted).

         [¶3] The court based its determinations on the following findings of fact:

One of the most difficult sources of jeopardy to rectify in child protection proceedings is the risk posed by domestic violence. In those cases, often one parent is the victim of the other. The dynamics of domestic violence, the interplay of power and control between the parties, and internal and external pressures to reunify as a family can undermine and delay reunification efforts. In a process where time frames are tied to those reasonably] necessary to meet a child's needs, that delay may be fatal to even good-faith efforts to resolve jeopardy. [The mother] has an intimate knowledge of domestic violence.
Throughout this case, and particularly at trial, [the mother] minimized her substance abuse. Although initially confirming in her testimony that the issues presented in this matter were alcohol abuse and domestic violence, minutes later she insisted that her own use of alcohol was an issue for a "short period" of her life.... Although she agreed at trial that she has a problem with alcohol, [the mother] quickly added that she simply stays away from it.
But she doesn't. She tested positive for the presence of alcohol in January, June and September of 2 016. The court does not find [her] explanation, that the January and September tests were attributable to her use of Nyquil, believable.
Then there is the issue of misuse of other substances. [The mother] has used marijuana regularly during this case. . . . [She] mentioned that there had been discussion at one point of using a prescribed benzodiazepine instead of the marijuana. Before her prescriber was willing to do so, however, [the mother] needed to go a month without using marijuana; she was unable to do so. She was diagnosed with cannabis use disorder, moderate. [The mother's medication-management provider's] notes indicate she had encouraged her client to stop using marijuana, to no avail.
[The mother] insists she has had no contact with [the father] since early November of 2016As [the DHHS caseworker] noted at trial, she has been told before by [the mother] that she and [the father] have separated, only to discover that was not the case or that the couple had reunited. As recently as December of 2016, [the mother] received a text message from [the father] with a picture of Anastasia. She admitted to [a visit supervisor] that she and [the father] continued to communicate by telephone, although she did not share that information with [the caseworker].
When asked what it would take for her to resolve the issue of domestic violence in her relationship, [the mother] responded it would require ...

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