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In re Children of Matthew G.

Supreme Court of Maine

July 9, 2019

IN RE CHILDREN OF MATTHEW G.

          Submitted On Briefs: June 26, 2019

          Heidi M. Drew, Esq., Lewiston, for appellant father

          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

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

          PER CURIAM.

         [¶1] Matthew G. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Rumford, Carlson, J.) terminating his parental rights to his two children pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2018). He argues that the court erred by relying solely on his incarcerated status to support its findings of parental unfitness and claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the termination hearing.[1] We affirm the judgment.

         [¶2] The Department of Health and Human Services initiated child protection proceedings as to the father's two children in March 2018 while the father was incarcerated, roughly one month after the children's mother died from an apparent drug overdose. See 22 M.R.S. § 4032 (2018). The court [Nale, J.) issued preliminary protection orders the same day, granting custody of the children to the Department. See 22 M.R.S. § 4034 (2018). A jeopardy hearing was held on June 18, 2018; the father did not appear at the hearing, and the court [Carlson, J.) later issued a jeopardy order. See 22 M.R.S. § 4035 (2018).

         [¶3] On November 7, 2018, the Department filed a petition to terminate the father's parental rights, and the court held a two-day hearing on the petition the following month. By judgment dated January 3, 2019, the court terminated the father's parental rights. Based on clear and convincing evidence in the record, the court determined that the father (1) is unwilling or unable to protect his children from jeopardy and these circumstances are unlikely to change within a time which is reasonably calculated to meet their needs and (2) is unwilling or unable to take responsibility for the children within a time which is reasonably calculated to meet their needs. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii). Finally, the court concluded that termination of the father's parental rights is in the children's best interests. See id. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a).

         [¶4] In support of those determinations, the court made the following findings of fact, which are supported by competent record evidence. See In re Child of Erica K, 2019 ME 66, ¶ 3, - A.3d -.

The children came into the custody of the Department of Health & Human Services on March 5, 2018 after the children's mother ... died on February 4, 2018 as a result of an apparent drug overdose in her home. At that time, the children were living with [the mother]. When the Department brought the child protection petition, [the father] was incarcerated. He continues to be incarcerated at this time, with a tentative release date of December 2019.
... Following their mother's death, [the children] were placed with [their maternal grandmother], where they remained until early May 2018, when they were placed in foster care . . . with their half-sibling .... They have remained in that placement since that time.
... The children are ages eight and nine. [The father] lived with the children and their mother until the summer of 2015, when he ended the relationship with [the mother] due to her drug and alcohol use. . . . [The mother] and [father's] relationship was marked by frequent arguments which occurred in the presence of the children.
... In the spring of 2017, [the mother] . . . filed a Protection from Abuse Complaint individually and on behalf of the children, against [the father]. He did not appear for the final hearing and she was granted a two[-]year Order which expires on May 12, 2019. This Order prohibits [the father] from having contact with the children.
At this point in time, [the daughter] needs a predictable, structured routine in her life, with consistent supervision and attention, clear rules and appropriate role modeling. She needs a caregiver that is physically and emotionally available to her, and one who ...

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