IN RE ZARIANNA C. et al.
Submitted On Briefs: January 11, 2018
R. Ranger, Esq., Lewiston, for appellant father.
Department of Health and Human Services did not file a brief
ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.
The father of Zarianna C, Zariyah C, and Zaylah C. appeals
from a judgment of the District Court (Waterville,
Stanfill, J.) terminating his parental rights to the
children pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and
(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2017). After reviewing the record, we
conclude that the evidence supports the court's finding
of parental unfitness and its discretionary determination
that termination is in the children's best interests.
Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.
Based on competent evidence in the record, the court found by
clear and convincing evidence that the father (1) is
unwilling or unable to protect the children from jeopardy
within a time reasonably calculated to meet their needs and
(2) is unwilling or unable to take responsibility for them
within that time frame. See 22 M.R.S. §
4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii). The court also found that
termination of the father's parental rights is in the
children's best interests. 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 children's best interests "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).
The court based its determination on the following findings
This case began in November 2015, but the family's
involvement with the Department started long before that. The
first case was filed in December 2011 and involved only
Zarianna because the other two girls had not yet been born.
[T]he case was dismissed . . . after some two years with
successful reunification with the mother. The second case
involved both Zarianna and Zariyah, and was filed August 22,
2014, approximate[ly] 8 months later. That case was dismissed
after about 14 months, in October 2015. The dismissal was
ordered after entry of a Parental Rights Judgment which
provided for the girls to live with their mother and have
supervised visits with their father. [The father] was
incarcerated at the time.
This case was filed November 6, 2015, only one month after
the last case was dismissed. [The current foster parents]
have been the foster placement for all three cases. At this
point, Zarianna has lived with them almost 5 years of her
life and Zariyah for almost 3 years of her life. Zaylah has
lived with the [foster parents] since she was 9 months old
and she is now over two years old. In short, all three girls
have lived with the [foster parents] the majority of their
The Jeopardy Order in this case found that the girls were in
jeopardy based on [the father]'s "past extensive and
severe substance abuse issues; past perpetration of domestic
violence, continued criminal activity and incarcerations; and
recent incarceration that prevents [the father] from being a
caregiver to the children." [The father] has never been
the primary caregiver for the children, and did not engage in
substantial reunification services or efforts during either
of the first two cases.
After years of failing to appropriately take care of the
girls, [the father] began to try to make changes in his life.
He has felony drug convictions from 2009 and 2010, but not
since then. He has three OUI convictions, in 2009, 2013, and
2014. He went through Drug Court. He has a significant
substance abuse history that has made him unavailable for the
children. He started substance abuse and [dual] diagnosis
counseling in August 2016 but was discharged for missing
appointments. He had started again with another counselor by
the time of the hearing, but had only seen that counselor 4
times and was also suspended for his attendance. He claims he
no longer uses any drugs and has not had a drink since his
birthday in September 2016. But, he tested positive for
alcohol on October 26, 2OI6[, ] and tested positive for
cocaine on January 31, May 18 and May 31, 2017. He continues
to use marijuana regularly. He has a medical marijuana card
but obtains his marijuana off the street. Indeed, his
explanation for the failed drug tests is that his marijuana
must have been tainted, an explanation the court rejects.
Thus, although he seems to have made good progress with his
substance abuse, he clearly has not obtained consistent
[The father] consistently denied any domestic violence
history and therefore did not address that issue. Despite
that denial, he recently began a certified batterer's
intervention group and was about 12 weeks into the 48-week
program at [the] time of trial. The court is persuaded by the
evidence, including prior findings, Zarianna's statements
and Zarianna's reaction (nightmares with fear of being
hit) that there was violence . . . between [the father] and
[the mother] and that at least the older two children were
also victims. It does not appear [that the father] has taken
responsibility for those actions.
Although affectionate and loving, [the father] has not
demonstrated that he is able to manage all three children as
their primary caretaker. He has struggled to visit
consistently. [Supervised visits were] discontinued in
January or February because of missed sessions. The visits
are chaotic, and [the father] is reluctant to follow through
with direction or to set boundaries. He enrolled in a
parenting class ...