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In re Child of Ronald W.

Supreme Court of Maine

July 26, 2018

IN RE CHILD OF RONALD W.

          Submitted On Briefs: June 27, 2018

          Elizabeth S. Gray, Esq., The Law Office of Elizabeth S. Gray, Esq., Augusta, for appellant father.

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Gen. Atty., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] 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).[1] 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.

         [¶2] 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."

         [¶3] 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.

         [¶4] 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 [child].
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 ...

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