Submitted On Briefs: November 21, 2019
McNally, Esq., Woodman Edmands Danylik Austin Smith &
Jacques, P.A., Biddeford, for appellant mother
S. Hewes, Esq., South Portland, for appellant father
M. Frey, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty.
Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee
Department of Health and Human Services
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, JABAR, HJELM, and
A mother and father appeal from a judgment of the District
Court (Biddeford, Duddy, J.) terminating their
parental rights to their child pursuant to 22 M.R.S. §
4055(1)(A)(1)(a), (B)(2)(a), (B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii), (iv) (2018).
The parents contend that the court erred in finding by clear
and convincing evidence that each of them is unfit.
See 22 M.R.S.§ 4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii), (iv).
The mother additionally contends that the court violated her
constitutional rights to due process and equal protection by
terminating her parental rights "based solely on [her]
economic status." The father separately contends that
the court erred in (1) finding by clear and convincing
evidence that termination was in the child's best
interest, see 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a); (2)
declining to allow a witness who testified at the hearing to
testify as an expert; and (3) failing to accommodate his
disability at the hearing. We affirm the
Unfitness and Best Interest Findings
The court made its unfitness findings, as well as its finding
that termination was in the child's best interest, based
on competent evidence in the record. "We review the
court's factual findings supporting its determination of
parental unfitness and best interest of the child for
clear error, and review its ultimate conclusion that
termination is in the best interest of the child for an
abuse of discretion, viewing the facts, and the weight to be
given them, through the trial court's lens, and giving
the court's judgment substantial deference." In
re Children of Jessica D., 2019 ME 70, ¶ 4, 208
A.3d 363 (quotation marks omitted).
The court's supported, thorough factual findings
underlying its unfitness and best interest determinations
include the following:
This is a deeply frustrating and somewhat odd case. [The
father and mother] are the biological parents of [the
three-year-old child]. [The child's] parents do not
suffer from domestic violence or substance use disorder.
Jeopardy in this case should have been easily rectifiable.
Instead, over the course of nearly three years [the father
and mother] selfishly elevated their own lifestyle choices
over the needs of [the child], stubbornly refused to engage
in key aspects of the reunification plan, and persistently
failed to alleviate lack of safe and stable housing, which
was a critical element of jeopardy. As a result of their
actions, [the child] has remained in foster care for most of
her young life
... The Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the
Department has made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and
reunify the family, and has made reasonable efforts to
identify and pursue an alternative permanency plan
The Court finds the following facts by clear and convincing
evidence. . . . Within days of [the child's] birth,
[hospital] staff reported concerns regarding [the
child's] parents to the Department due to the
mother's untreated mental health and difficulty managing
[the child's] care, and the father's lack of
engagement with the infant. As a result, the Department
opened an assessment of the family. [The child] was
discharged from [the hospital]... to the care of her parents
with a Department Safety Plan in place requiring the mother
be supervised at all times with [the child].
[Eight months later], another report was made to the
Department with concerns for [the child] and her parents.
[The parents] had left [the] eight month old [child] in the
care of two individuals they had just met at a grocery store.
These two individuals were not safe or appropriate caregivers
for [the child]. One of the individuals had significant
cognitive limitations. The other individual had child
protective history and had lost the custody of her own
children. [The parents] left [the child] in their care for
approximately one month, allegedly because where they were
living had become infested with bed bugs. Neither [parent]
recognized the risk of their judgment and decision to leave
[the child] with these individuals.
The Department requested and received an Order of Preliminary
Child Protection granting custody of [the child] to the
Department.... A Jeopardy Order as to both parents was
[later] entered by agreement of the parties ... with custody
of [the child] remaining with the Department. By this point,
[the parents] had been evicted from their housing and were
The Jeopardy Order set forth several required steps....Both
parents were required to participate in parenting education.
[The mother] was required to consistently engage in mental
health treatment and follow recommendations. [The father] was
to participate in a mental health evaluation and follow the
resulting recommendations. [The parents] for the most part
complied with these requirements. However, both parents were
also required to establish and maintain safe, stable housing
suitable for family reunification. Toward this end, the
parents were required to notify the Department and Guardian
Ad Litem of any changes in the composition of their
household, since one of the grounds for jeopardy was the
parents' inability to recognize safe and appropriate
caregivers for [the child]. [The parents] failed to satisfy
[The parents] initially participated in joint supervised
visits through Home Counselors, Inc. (HCI) with [the child].
However, it soon became clear that [the father] was unable to
participate meaningfully in morning visits with [the child].
This was the first indication the Department had that
something was seriously amiss with [the father].... The visit
supervisor reported safety concerns due to [the father's]
inability to care for [the child]. [The mother] did not
appear to recognize the risk posed by [the father]. Both
parents reported that [the father's] dysfunction was due
to his sleep schedule and that he was up most of the night
and slept during the day. The visits were suspended in order
to have a Family Team Meeting to address the visit
supervisor's concerns.... [T]he issues created by ...