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In re Children of Meagan C.

Supreme Court of Maine

August 6, 2019

IN RE CHILDREN OF MEAGAN C.

          Submitted On Briefs: June 26, 2019

          Amy McNally, Esq., Woodman Edmands Danylik Austin Smith & Jacques, P.A., Biddeford, for appellant mother

          Krishna Dougherty, Esq., Chester & Vestal, P.A., Portland, for appellant Father

          Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Zack Paakkonen, 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.

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] A mother and father appeal from a consolidated judgment of the District Court (York, Duddy, J.) terminating their parental rights to their children. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2018).[1] Both parents challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court's determination that they are parentally unfit and contend that the court abused its discretion in determining that termination was in the children's best interests. Additionally, the father challenges the denial of his post-judgment Rule 60(b)(6) motion for relief from judgment on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel. See M.R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). We affirm the judgments.

          I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] In June 2017, the Department petitioned to terminate the parents' parental rights as to the girls, and the mother's parental rights as to the boy. See 22 M.R.S. § 4052 (2018). The court [Duddy, J.) held a three-day hearing, from September 25 through September 27, 2018, on the Department's petition at which both parents were present and represented by counsel. See 22 M.R.S. § 4054(2018).

         [¶3] By judgment dated November 2, 2018, the court terminated the parents' parental rights as to the girls, and the mother's parental rights as to the boy. See id. § 4055(1) (B)(2) (a), (b)(i)-(ii). The court found by clear and convincing evidence that each parent (1) is unwilling or unable to protect the children from jeopardy and these circumstances are unlikely to change within a time which is reasonably calculated to meet the children's needs and (2) has been unwilling or unable to take responsibility for the children within a time which is reasonably calculated to meet the children's needs. See id. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii). The court also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of the parents' parental rights is in the children's best interests. See id. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a); In re Caleb M, 2017 ME 66, ¶ 6, 159 A.3d 345.

         [¶4] The court's supported factual findings as to the mother's fitness are as follows:

The children were taken into custody over two years ago. Since that time, [the mother] has failed to resolve her chronic substance abuse and to address her mental health. [The mother] has continued to use drugs and alcohol, has failed to get clean and sober, and is currently abusing alcohol and Subutex. [The mother] bullies and threatens her treating physician to support her various substance use habits. [The mother] lies about and minimizes her substance use, and is in a state of denial and dishonesty. [The mother] has failed to seek out and obtain mental health treatment, and has failed to address her mental health issues. [The mother] has failed to nurture a healthy attachment with [the children]. The GAL testified at trial that in his opinion [the mother] has not improved at all since the start of this case, and the Court agrees.
Given her continued state of poly substance abuse, [the mother] is currently unable and unwilling to protect her children from jeopardy. She is also currently unable and unwilling to take responsibility for her children. After two years, [the mother]'s visits with her children are still fully supervised. Even in a supervised setting, [the mother] is barely able to feed [the boy], and totally unable to take responsibility for a child with his profound disabilities. [The mother]'s visits with [the girls] have been hurtful and counterproductive. [The mother] has demonstrated no understanding of or ability to manage [the younger girls]'s anxiety disorder or [the older girl]'s PTSD. In view of [the mother]'s failure for over two years to make any progress toward sobriety and improved mental health, and her current state of denial, [the mother] shows no prospect for the foreseeable future of protecting the children from jeopardy, or taking responsibility for them.

         The court's supported evidentiary findings as to the father's parental fitness are as follows:

In the over two years since [the girls] were taken into Department custody, [the father] has done next to nothing to alleviate jeopardy or take responsibility for the girls. When he was given visitation in late 2016, after being released from jail, he missed several visits and his visitation was suspended. Soon after visitation was resumed, [the father] relapsed, and he asked for visitation to be suspended. He failed to engage consistently or successfully in any services while he was not incarcerated. He has only recently begun participating in services during his current jail sentence. He concedes that it will be at least nine to ten months before he might be ready to parent the girls.... [T]he Court finds that prediction unrealistic. The smallest thing triggers [the father]'s drug use, and his track record establishes that [the father] is not willing or able to do the work necessary to improve his situation. [The father] will not be able to protect the girls from jeopardy, or take responsibility for them, anytime in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, [the father] is unable or unwilling to protect the girls from jeopardy, or to take responsibility for them, within a time reasonably calculated to meet their needs.

         [¶5] The court also made the following supported findings regarding the best interests of the children:

[The boy] ... has lived with the [foster parents] for most of his life. The [foster parents] have learned how to interpret [the boy]'s facial expressions and how to read his body language. [The foster mom] understands how to implement lessons learned from [the boy]'s many therapies. [She] has also figured out how to successfully feed [the boy]. The [foster parents'] household is stable, and provides a safe environment in which all of [the boy]'s substantial physical and emotional needs can be met. [The boy] is not old enough, or intellectually able, to express a meaningful ...

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