Submitted On Briefs: June 27, 2018
Elizabeth S. Gray, Esq., The Law Office of Elizabeth S. Gray,
Esq., Augusta, for appellant father.
T. Mills, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Gen.
Atty., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee
Department of Health and Human Services
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, HJELM, and
Ronald W. appeals from a judgment of the District Court
(Augusta, Nale, J.) terminating his parental rights
to his child pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a)
and (B)(2)(a), (b)(ii) (2017). He challenges the adequacy of the
court's findings to inform the parties of the basis for
the judgment as well as the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting the court's finding of parental unfitness and
the court's discretionary determination that termination
is in the best interest of the child. See id. §
4055(1)(B)(2) (2017). After reviewing the record, we conclude
that the court met its obligation to issue findings that are
adequate to inform the parties of the basis for the judgment
and to allow for effective appellate review, the evidence
supports the court's factual findings, and the court did
not exceed its discretion in determining that termination of
the father's parental rights is in the child's best
interest. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.
As a preliminary matter, the father contends that the court
erred by failing to make a finding of parental unfitness as
required by 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(b), and, to the
extent that the court made such a finding, the court was
unclear regarding which statutory ground of unfitness formed
the basis for its decision. Contrary to the father's
contention, the court expressly found parental unfitness. The
court cited to section 4055(1)(B)(2)(b), listed the statutory
definitions for parental unfitness, and explained that the
Department was required to prove unfitness by clear and
convincing evidence pursuant to at least one of those
statutory definitions. Under the heading "UNFITNESS AS
TO FATHER," the court stated that it "must look at
whether [the father] will be able to take responsibility for
[the child] within a time reasonably calculated to meet [her]
needs, and he cannot."
From this language, it is evident that the court found that
the father was unfit pursuant to section
4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(ii), which provides that parental unfitness
may be found when "[t]he parent has been unwilling or
unable to take responsibility for the child within a time
which is reasonably calculated to meet the child's
needs." That the court made a finding of parental
unfitness pursuant to section 4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(ii) is further
demonstrated by its specific findings of fact. These findings
and conclusions meet the requirement imposed on a court,
see M.R. Civ.P. 52(a), to issue findings and
conclusions that are sufficient to "inform the parties
of the reasoning underlying its conclusions and to provide
for effective appellate review." Young v.
Young, 2015 ME 89, ¶ 10, 120 A.3d 106.
The court based its finding of parental unfitness and its
determination of the child's best interest on the
following findings of fact:
[The father's] drug use, criminal history, . . . and
long-term incarceration are longstanding and significant.
The court finds that [the father] has not had consistent or
meaningful contact with his [child] throughout her life. [The
father] has either been incarcerated or living apart from
[the child] ... for extended periods of time.
[The child] has not seen her father for over 20 months. [The
father's] earliest release date is projected to be June
of 2019. Approximately 17 more months. The guardian reports
that during her visit with [the child] that [the child] has
never made mention of her father.... Each month is a very
long time in the life of a child this age.
The court finds that [the father] failed to initiate any
contact with [the Department of Health and Human Services]
regarding his [child] during the first 10 months [that she
was in the custody of the Department during] his
incarceration for violating his probation. The one contact
that he had was a letter expressing concern for [the child].
After that contact with [the Department], there wasn't
any more. He made no request of [the] case worker to see his
The court finds that [the father] is unable to meet the most
basic needs of his [child]. This situation will not change in
the next 17 months. It has not changed since May 2, 2016. The
court finds that this father's parental rights ...