State of Utah, in the interest of J.S., a person under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. J.S., Appellant,
District Juvenile Court, Price Department The Honorable Craig
M. Bunnell No. 1117628
H. Blackburn, Attorney for Appellant.
D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys
Pierce, Guardian ad Litem.
Judges Gregory K. Orme, J. Frederic Voros Jr., and David N.
J.S. (Father) appeals the termination of his parental rights
to his child. We affirm.
"Whether a parent's rights should be terminated
presents a mixed question of law and fact." In re
B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12, 171 P.3d 435. "Because
of the factually intense nature of such an inquiry, the
juvenile court's decision should be afforded a high
degree of deference." Id. "Thus, in order
to overturn the juvenile court's decision '[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.'" Id.
(alteration in original) (quoting In re Z.D., 2006
UT 54, ¶¶ 33, 40, 147 P.3d 401). Further,
"[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." Id.
Father raises a single issue on appeal. He claims that the
juvenile court erred by "ending reunification with
[Father] after [ten] weeks and by not making reasonable
efforts to provide services to" Father. In support of
his claim, Father argues that he had difficulty drug testing
and attending required counseling due to his employment. He
also argues that it was not in the child's best interest
"to prematurely terminate his reunification
services" and that the Division of Child and Family
Services (DCFS) "should have made additional efforts to
facilitate his drug testing and counseling
requirements." Father contends that DCFS did not make
reasonable efforts to provide services to him and that DCFS
should have offered him alternatives that would have allowed
him to "continue to keep working full time at his job
and complete the child and family plan at the same
"Utah law requires a court to make two distinct findings
before terminating a parent-child relationship." In
re R.A.J., 1999 UT App 329, ¶ 7, 991 P.2d 1118.
"First, the court must find that the parent is below
some minimum threshold of fitness, such as finding that a
parent is unfit or incompetent based on any of the grounds
for termination" in Utah Code section 78A-6-507.
Id. (citation and internal quotations marks
omitted). "Second, the court must find that the best
interests and welfare of the child are served by terminating
. . . parental rights." Id. Under section
78A-6-507, the finding of a single ground will support
termination of parental rights. See Utah Code Ann.
§ 78A-6-507(1) (LexisNexis 2012). Father does not
challenge any ground for termination found by the juvenile
court. Instead, he characterizes his claim on appeal as a
challenge to the best interest determination. The following
facts are relevant to the issue on appeal.
DCFS first became involved with the child and his parents in
February 2015 as a result of concerns with domestic violence
and drug use by both parents. DCFS offered the parents
voluntary services in March 2015, including drug testing,
mental health and substance abuse assessments, and treatment
for both parents. The child came into DCFS custody on July 8,
2015, as a result of both parents' failure to respond to
voluntary services and treatment and their ongoing drug use.
On August 13, 2015, the juvenile court entered its
"stipulated findings of fact, conclusions of law, and
adjudication/disposition order, " which established
jurisdiction over the child as abused and neglected by the
parents. The juvenile court set a primary goal of
reunification with the parents and incorporated the Child and
Family Plan as a court order.
In July 2015, Father completed a substance abuse and mental
health assessment. In August 2015, Father completed a
Parental Fitness Evaluation. That evaluation did not
recommend that reunification be pursued with Father because
he was not ready to pursue reunification based on his
attitudes toward DCFS and his attitude and perspective with
respect to drug use. Father was "unapologetic for his
behaviors and continued to claim he had done virtually
nothing wrong." The evaluation stated that in order for
reunification to be recommended, Father would have to remain
clean for at least three months and significantly change his
attitude and perspective with respect to using drugs.
However, in the event that reunification with Father was
pursued, the evaluation also recommended the services that
would be necessary. The Child and Family Plan included
reunification services for Father.
In August 2015, DCFS filed an order to show cause based on
Father's failure to comply with his mandated services.
Father admitted the allegations of the order to show cause.
On September 2, 2015, the juvenile court found Father to be
in contempt of its order and sentenced Father to thirty days
in jail with twenty-eight days suspended contingent on future
compliance with the court's order. At an October 7, 2015
review hearing, the juvenile court found that Father had five
positive drug tests in September 2015. Father disputed the
results and requested an evidentiary hearing. Father had not
consistently attended treatment, and he told the court he
attended only when he was not working. The juvenile court
requested DCFS to file a new order to show cause to address
Father's continued noncompliance with the Child and
Family Plan and set an evidentiary permanency hearing
regarding Father only.
Father was present and represented by counsel at the November
18, 2015 evidentiary permanency hearing. Father had submitted
ten negative drug tests to DCFS in October 2015. He submitted
eight drug tests in November 2015 prior to the hearing, all
but one of which was negative. However, he tested positive
for methamphetamine and THC on November 16, 2015. Father also
had not been attending therapy as required. His therapist
testified that Father was attending roughly half of the
recommended group treatment and had made little progress on
his issues. At the hearing, Father stipulated to the
termination of reunification services for him. As a result,
DCFS requested dismissal of the pending order to show cause.
The juvenile court entered a permanency order as to Father,
finding that he had not substantially complied with his
reunification service requirements or met the goals of the
Child and Family Plan, that the child could not be safely
returned to ...