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In re Child of Erica H.

Supreme Court of Maine

May 7, 2019


          Submitted On Briefs: April 9, 2019

          Erik T. Crocker, Esq., Farrell, Rosenblatt & Russell, Bangor, for appellant mother

          Aaron 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


          PER CURIAM.

         [¶1] Erica H. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Bangor, Jordan, J.) terminating her parental rights to her child[1] 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.[2] We affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] 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).

         [¶3] 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.

         [¶4] The mother has a substantial history with the Department.[3] 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.

         [¶5] 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.[4] 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."

         [¶6] 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.

         [¶7] 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."

         [¶8] 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 it ...

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