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In re Child of Lacy H.

Supreme Court of Maine

July 11, 2019

IN RE CHILD OF LACY H.

          Submitted On Briefs: May 30, 2019

          Ezra A.R. Willey, Esq., Willey Law Offices, 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

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

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Lacy H. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Bangor, Jordan, J.) terminating her parental rights to her child.[1] She argues that the intervention of the Governor's office in the decision of the Department of Health and Human Services to cancel or delay her trial placement violated her due process and equal protection rights, and that the court erred and abused its discretion in determining that she was unfit and that the termination of her parental rights was in the child's best interest. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The Department filed a child protection petition and a petition for an order of preliminary protection in February 2017, soon after the child was born. See 22 M.R.S. §§ 4032, 4034 (2018). The petition alleged that the child had been born prematurely and had been exposed to marijuana during his mother's pregnancy, and that the mother was resisting the directions of hospital staff and not safely caring for the fragile newborn. The court (Larson, /.) entered an order of preliminary protection and placed the child in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

         [¶3] In May 2017, the court (Jordan, /.) held a jeopardy hearing that the mother did not attend. See 22 M.R.S. § 4035(1) (2018). The court entered a jeopardy order based on neglect or threat of neglect to the child due to the mother's substance abuse, active criminal history, untreated mental health issues, and lack of stable housing or supports. See 22 M.R.S. §4035 (2018). The order established a permanency plan of reunification with the mother and called for the mother to participate in counseling, drug screens, supervised visits, and other services.

         [¶4] After an initial judicial review and permanency planning hearing held in October 2017, the court ordered the mother to participate in a diagnostic evaluation in November 2017. The court held another judicial review and permanency planning hearing the following month, ordering no change in custody.

          [¶5] The Department petitioned for termination of the mother's parental rights in January 2018. The Department alleged that, after ten months, the mother had relapsed in her substance abuse; she had failed to attend and participate consistently in counseling, case management, anger management, and drug screens; and she remained under threat of extradition because of a lifetime warrant for her arrest in Georgia.

         [¶6] In May 2018, while the petition was pending, the Department was considering an additional effort toward rehabilitation and reunification-a possible trial placement of the child with the mother. When the mother arrived for the family team meeting for the team to make final arrangements for a trial placement, she learned that the Governor's office had become involved in her case and that the trial placement would not be happening at that time. This result was consistent with the caseworker's position that the trial placement should not happen for safety reasons, though it conflicted with his supervisor's opinion that a trial placement could be attempted. No trial placement was attempted after that family team meeting.

         [¶7] The court held a trial on the termination petition over the course of three days in November 2018. It then entered a judgment granting the petition to terminate the mother's parental rights after reaching findings of fact by clear and convincing evidence. 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a), (B)(2)(a), (b)(i) (2018). The court reached the following findings, which are supported by competent evidence in the record. See In re AM., 2012 ME 118, ¶ 29, 55 A.3d 463.

The child was born premature. He was born drug affected due to the mother's consistent use of marijuana throughout her pregnancy. . . . The mother did very poorly as far as engaging in services and addressing the jeopardy issues ...

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