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In re Child of Peter T.

Supreme Court of Maine

April 16, 2019

IN RE CHILD OF PETER T.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 9, 2019

          Robert E. Meggison, Esq., Belfast, for appellant father

          Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services

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

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Peter T. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Bangor, Jordan, J.) terminating his parental rights to his child pursuant to 22 M.R.S. §4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2018).[1] He challenges only the court's determination that termination of his parental rights is in the child's best interest. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts, which are supported by competent record evidence, are drawn from the court's judgment and the procedural record. See In re Children of Christopher S., 2019 ME 31, ¶ 2, ___A.3d___.

         [¶3] In April of 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition for child protection and preliminary protection orders on behalf of the child, who was then three years old. See 22 M.R.S. §§ 4032-4034 (2018). The petition alleged that the father had been convicted of unlawful sexual contact with a child under the age of 12, see 17 A M.R.S. § 255-A(1)(F-1) (2018), and posed an immediate risk of serious harm of sexual abuse to his own child. The court (Mallonee, /.) issued a preliminary protection order and placed the child in the Department's custody.

         [¶4] The following August, the court (Jordan, /.) entered an agreed-upon order finding jeopardy as to the father based on his sexual assault conviction, his history of diagnosed mental health conditions, and a concern about his anger. See 22 M.R.S. §4035 (2018). The order required the father to participate in several types of services and interventions, and allowed him supervised visitation with the child "as deemed appropriate by DHHS, provided it is in [the child's] best interest." The court held three judicial review and permanency planning hearings from December of 2016 through May of 2017, see 22 M.R.S. §§ 4038, 4038-B (2018), and after each hearing issued a consent order continuing the terms of the jeopardy order.

         [¶5] In January of 2018, the court held a fourth judicial review hearing, where the father contested the Department's assertion that jeopardy had not been alleviated. In an order entered after the hearing, the court found that the child whom the father had sexually assaulted, resulting in the conviction, was a family member. The court further found that the father's explanation of the incident resulting in that conviction-that his sexual assault of the child was "accidental" and that he had "confused [the victim] for his adult wife"-was "completely unbelievable" and that "[s]uch minimization and evasion, after four years of sex offender therapy, convinces the Court that he is still a danger to children." The court concluded that the father continued to pose a risk of reoffending and that "jeopardy as to [the father] continues unabated."

         [¶6] In March of 2018, the Department filed a petition to terminate the father's parental rights. The following August, the court held a consolidated hearing on termination and judicial review, where the court heard testimony from the child's departmental caseworker, the guardian ad litem, and the father. The caseworker testified that, to her knowledge, the father had not participated in sex offender treatment or any other services to alleviate the jeopardy found by the court at the January 2018 judicial review hearing. The father conceded that jeopardy had not been resolved but requested that the court give him six additional months "to show that things are different and that his situation would permit... a trial placement."

         [¶7] At the conclusion of the hearing, the court orally granted the Department's termination petition. The court determined that the father was parentally unfit because he was neither able to protect the child from jeopardy nor able to take responsibility for the child, and would be unable to do either within a time reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs, see 22 M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii)-circumstances that the court noted were not contested by the father. The court also concluded that termination of the father's parental rights is in the child's best interest, see id. § 4O55(1)(B)(2)(a), because, absent termination, the delay in creating permanency for the child would be too great. More specifically, the court found that the father's request for an additional six months for him to engage in therapy, to be followed by months of a trial home placement, would result in "arguably at least another year before [there would be] any chance of permanency for a child who has spent almost half her life in State custody."

         [¶8] On October 10, 2018, the court entered a written judgment terminating the father's parental rights, in which the court found the following additional facts, which are supported by competent record evidence. See In ...


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