Submitted On Briefs: April 9, 2019
T. Crocker, Esq., Farrell, Rosenblatt & Russell, Bangor,
for appellant mother
M. Frey, Attorney General, and Hunter C. Umphrey, Asst. Atty.
Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee
Department of Health and Human Services
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
Erica H. appeals from a judgment of the District Court
(Bangor, Jordan, J.) terminating her parental rights
to her child pursuant to 22 M.R.S. §
4055(1)(B)(2)(a) and (b)(i)-(ii) (2018). She contends that
(1) the evidence is insufficient to support the court's
findings of parental unfitness, (2) the evidence is
insufficient to support the court's determination that
termination of her parental rights was in the child's
best interest, (3) the foster parents' separation made
the best interest finding inappropriate, and (4) the court
abused its discretion when it denied her motions for a new
trial or to reopen the evidence. We affirm the judgment.
On October 27, 2017, the Department of Health and Human
Services filed a petition to terminate the mother's
parental rights. See 22 M.R.S. § 4052 (2018).
The court held a three-day hearing on the petition in July
and August 2018. On September 17, 2018, the court found, by
clear and convincing evidence, that the mother is unable to
protect the child from jeopardy or take responsibility for
the child within a time which is reasonably calculated to
meet the child's needs. Id. §
4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii). The court further found that
termination of the mother's parental rights is in best
interest of the child. Id. §4055(1)(B)(2)(a).
The court based its decision on the following factual
findings, which are supported by competent evidence in the
record. See In re Child of Jonathan D., 2019 ME 14,
¶ 5, 200 A.3d 799.
The mother has a substantial history with the
Department. The child who is the focus of this appeal
was six years old at the time of the hearing. During his
life, he has been involved in child protective proceedings on
three separate occasions, and has been in the
Department's custody most of his life.
The mother has lived a "difficult and traumatic
life," with a significant history of substance abuse and
mental health issues. Although she has been able to maintain
her sobriety for an "extended period of time," the
mother failed to engage meaningfully in mental health
counseling until after the court terminated her parental
rights to another child in October 2017, and as a result has
considerable past trauma that remains
unaddressed. The court found the mother's recent
improvements to be "encouraging, but... not timely"
and noted that the mother's "track record is not
simply the last several months, but must include a longer
period of her history."
With regard to the mother's ability to safely parent the
child, the court recognized that she has become more amenable
to suggestions related to her parenting deficits, but she is
highly unlikely to be able to keep the child safe on a daily
basis. The court's concerns were heightened by the
mother's continued association with unsafe people,
particularly her ex-boyfriend with whom she lived for a
period of time despite her claims that he had been violent
toward her on several occasions.
The court found that the child "had been in several
placements before being placed with the current foster
parents," and that he "needs consistency,
dependability, and predictability from a parent." The
court also heard testimony from the child's foster
parents; he has been in their care since the fall of 2016,
marking "one of the longest periods of stability"
in his life. The foster parents each testified about their
recent decision to separate from one another, while also
highlighting their dedication to meeting the child's
needs and making sure that his life is not disrupted by their
separation. The court ultimately determined that the
child's best interest will be "served by freeing him
up for adoption into a stable, loving, and consistent
home," due to his need for permanency, and because the
"uncertain nature of the time necessary for [the mother
to make sufficient progress] is too substantial a problem for
him to have to wait."
On September 28, 2018, the mother filed a motion to alter or
amend the judgment, see M.R. Civ. P. 59(e), and for
additional findings of fact, see M.R. Civ. P. 52(b),
along with a motion for a new trial, see M.R. Civ.
P. 59(a), or to reopen the evidence, see M.R. Civ.
P. 43 (j). The Department filed a response to the
mother's post-judgment motions on October 18, 2018. The
court denied in part and granted in part the mother's
motion for additional findings, though it did not alter its
decision to terminate the mother's parental rights, and