State of Utah, in the interest of A.B. and A.B., persons under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. A.B., Appellant,
District Juvenile Court, Duchesne Department The Honorable
Ryan B. Evershed No. 1124702
Erin Bradley and Emily Adams, Attorneys for Appellant
D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys
Pierce, Guardian ad Litem
Judges J. Frederic Voros Jr., Stephen L. Roth, and Jill M.
A.B. (Mother) appeals the juvenile court's September 8,
2016 order placing her children in the permanent custody and
guardianship of their grandfather. Mother claims that there
was insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's
conclusion that it was in the best interests of the children
to give the grandfather permanent custody and that the
juvenile court plainly erred in failing to enter findings of
fact sufficient to enable review.
"[I]n order to overturn the juvenile court's
decision [concerning the permanent status of a child, ]
'[t]he result must be against the clear weight of the
evidence or leave the appellate court with a firm and
definite conviction that a mistake has been made.'"
In re B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12, 171 P.3d 435
(citation omitted). We "review the juvenile court's
factual findings based upon the clearly erroneous
standard." In re E.R., 2001 UT App 66, ¶
11, 21 P.3d 680. A finding of fact is clearly erroneous only
when, in light of the evidence supporting the finding, it is
against the clear weight of the evidence. See id.
Further, we give the juvenile court a "'wide
latitude of discretion as to the judgments arrived at'
based upon not only the court's opportunity to judge
credibility firsthand, but also based on the juvenile court
judges' 'special training, experience and interest in
this field.'" Id. (citations omitted).
Finally, "[w]hen a foundation for the court's
decision exists in the evidence, an appellate court may not
engage in a reweighing of the evidence." In re
B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12.
At the September 8, 2016 hearing, the juvenile court
determined that returning the children into the custody of
either of their parents "would create a substantial risk
of detriment to the children's physical or emotional
well-being" and would be "contrary to the welfare
of the children." See Utah Code Ann. §
78A-6-314(2)(b) (LexisNexis Supp. 2016) (setting forth the
standard to be considered in determining whether children
should be returned to their parent's care). Mother
asserts that there was insufficient evidence to support the
court's findings. We disagree.
It is "[p]rima facie evidence that return of the minor
to a parent or guardian would create a substantial risk of
detriment to the minor" if a parent fails to
participate, comply with, or meet the goals of a
court-approved service plan. Id. §
78A-6-314(2)(c). It is undisputed that Mother failed to do
any one of these things. In fact, the State had moved to
terminate services during the previous hearing due to each
parent's lack of involvement. However, the juvenile court
denied the motion and provided each parent forty-five days to
demonstrate their seriousness about regaining custody by
engaging in the child and family plan. Mother failed to take
advantage of this opportunity. Mother failed to even contact
the case worker during those forty-five days, despite moving
from one state to another. In so doing, she did not make the
Division of Child and Family Services aware of her new living
situation or seek assistance in obtaining services in the new
state. Mother offered no explanation for her complete lack of
communication. Further, she offered no legitimate
justification for her failure to begin complying with the
service plan. Such evidence supported court's the finding
that Mother had failed to "participate in, to comply
with (in whole or in part), or to meet the goals of the
court-approved service plan." See id. This, in
turn, supported the finding that returning the children to
Mother would create a substantial risk of detriment to the
children. See id. In addition, evidence demonstrated
that the children were doing well in the grandfather's
home, were receiving adequate care, and were experiencing
stability in their lives that had previously been lacking.
Together, this evidence supported the juvenile court's
findings. Because a foundation for the juvenile court's
decision exists in the evidence, we may not reweigh that
evidence. See In re B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12.
Mother next argues that the juvenile court committed plain
error by failing to enter findings of fact sufficient to
enable judicial review. While we agree that the findings lack
detail and could have been more artfully drafted, they are
not so deficient as to constitute plain error. The court
found that the "parents have failed to participate in,
comply with (in whole or part), or to meet the goals of a
court-approved service plan. The court gave the parents 45
days to show that they were actively working the case. The
parents have failed to do anything on the service plan."
This was prima facie evidence that return of the minors to
Mother "would create a substantial risk of detriment to
the minor[s], " Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-314(2)(c),
which the juvenile court so found. Mother failed to present
any evidence to rebut that prima facie evidence. Accordingly,
based on these findings the court was required to terminate
reunification services and "make a final determination
regarding whether termination of parental rights, adoption,
or permanent custody and guardianship [was] the most
appropriate final plan for the minor." Id.
§ 78A-6-314(4)(b). Of these options, permanent custody
and guardianship was the least damaging option to the
relationship between Mother and the children. Therefore,
having made findings so required by the applicable statute,
the juvenile court did not commit plain error in failing to
include additional findings.