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In re Child of Rebecca J.

Supreme Court of Maine

July 25, 2019


          Submitted On Briefs: July 18, 2019

          Julian Richter, Esq., Richter Law, LLC, Gardiner, 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, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Rebecca J. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Waterville, Stanfill, J.) terminating her parental rights to her child. The mother challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court's findings of parental unfitness and its determination that termination of her parental rights is in the child's best interest. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] On August 18, 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a child protection petition as to both parents, [1] alleging that the mother had a history of Department involvement as to her two older children and that the mother had not alleviated the circumstances that necessitated the Department's ongoing involvement as to her older children.[2] On November 28, 2017, the court entered an agreed-to jeopardy order, incorporating the findings from the jeopardy order issued in prior child protection matters regarding the mother's two older children. The court found that the mother did not adequately supervise the children; the mother's household was chaotic and dirty; the older children-one of whom was a nonambulatory infant at the time-sustained bruising and other physical injuries while in the mother's care, which the mother denied having noticed and could not explain; and the "instability that has plagued [the mother] from the onset of [the older children's] case persists." The court entered agreed-to judicial review and permanency planning orders on March 30, 2018; June 11, 2018 [Davis, J.); and November 28, 2018 [Stanfill, J.), maintaining custody of the child with the Department.

         [¶3] Meanwhile, on July 3, 2018, the Department petitioned for the termination of the mother's parental rights. After a contested hearing, by judgment dated February 11, 2019, the court made the following findings of fact, which are supported by competent record evidence.

[The mother] is the biological mother to three children [who] have different fathers and are the subject of three separate child protection cases. [The middle child] resides with his father. . . . [P]arental rights of both parents [to the oldest child] have been terminated
When [the youngest child, who is the subject of the present matter, ] was born ..., it appeared that [the mother] was making good progress in her reunification with the other children. They were placed with her in March 2017 for a trial placement, and so [this child] also remained in the home. Problems began to arise again, however, and by May 2017 all the children were again removed from the home
The reasons for the original removal of [the two older children] in 2016 included, among other things, unexplained and likely inflicted bruising to [the middle child] while in [the mother's] care. When all three children were removed [in] May 2017, there were again unexplained bruises on both [older children]. While there has never been a finding that [the mother] inflicted the injuries, it is very concerning that they occurred while in her care on more than one occasion and that she not only could not explain the injuries but never noticed them. Because [the mother] still will not recognize that 2 of her children were injured in her care, she cannot take responsibility for either her actions or the conditions that allowed the injuries to occur.
In addition to the injuries, the children evidenced general neglect when removed. . . . When [the youngest child] came into care, [she was] ill ..., sufficiently so that she was seen in the ER. The fact that a child is ill is not necessarily evidence of neglect, but again it is concerning that [the mother] did not appear to recognize the extent of the illness. While [the mother] called to authorize the treatment at the hospital, she did not go to the hospital or thereafter inquire how it went.
[The mother's] detached parenting style continues to this day. She rarely asks about [the child's] life during the week. She does not go to [the child's] appointments and rarely inquires about them. When [the child] was in her care, [the mother] tended to leave her in the car seat and had little interaction with her. Current visits are not much different: she brings snacks and will play with [the child], but there is little physical affection or actual parenting. [The mother] does not pick her up, hug or kiss her.... [I]t is clear that [the child] does not view [the mother] as her parent [and she] is more bonded to [her foster mother] than to [the mother]. In short, ... ...

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