State of Utah, in the interest of J.S., a person under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. J.R., Appellant,
District Juvenile Court, Price Department The Honorable Craig
M. Bunnell No. 1117628
Andrew McCullough, Attorney for Appellant.
D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys
Pierce, Guardian ad Litem
Judges Michele M. Christiansen, Jill M. Pohlman, and Diana
J.R. (Mother) appeals the termination of her parental rights.
Mother asserts that there was insufficient evidence to
support the grounds for terminating her parental rights, and
that the juvenile court did not give appropriate weight to
her fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and
management of her child. We affirm.
"[I]n order to overturn the juvenile court's
decision [to terminate a person's parental rights, ]
'the 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.
The juvenile court found several grounds supporting the
termination of Mother's parental rights. Although Mother
challenges the juvenile court's subsidiary findings that
she failed to exhibit the normal interest of a natural parent
without just cause, and that she failed to provide a stable
environment for the child where he was loved and protected,
Mother's failure to challenge all of the grounds for
termination identified by the juvenile court, renders her
challenges irrelevant. The finding of a single enumerated
ground set forth in Utah Code section 78A-6-507 is alone
sufficient to support the termination of parental rights.
See Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-507 (LexisNexis
2012). Therefore, this court will affirm the termination of
parental rights if the record supports any of the grounds
identified by the juvenile court for terminating Mother's
The juvenile court found that Mother neglected and abused
J.S.. See id. § 78A-6-507(1)(b). The juvenile
court also found that Mother was an unfit or incompetent
parent. See id. § 78A-6-507(1). Additionally,
the juvenile court determined that (1) the child had been in
an out-of-home placement under the supervision of the
juvenile court and the Division of Child and Family Services
(DCFS), (2) Mother "substantially neglected, willfully
refused, or [has] been unable or unwilling to remedy the
circumstances that caused the child to be in an out-of-home
placement, " and (3) "there is a substantial
likelihood that [Mother] will not be capable of exercising
proper and effective parental care in the near future."
See id. § 78A-6-507(1)(d).
In determining whether a parent is unfit or has neglected a
child, the juvenile court shall consider a parent's
habitual or excessive use of intoxicating liquors, controlled
substances, or dangerous drugs that renders the parent unable
to care for the child. See id. §
78A-6-508(2)(c). This court has previously affirmed the
termination of parental rights for methamphetamine use after
the court concluded that "use of methamphetamines is
totally, completely inconsistent with responsible
parenting." In re S.Y., 2003 UT App 66, ¶
20, 66 P.3d 601.
The record demonstrates that Mother has an extensive history
of drug addiction involving methamphetamine and marijuana.
The juvenile court determined that Mother had ample
opportunities to address her drug addiction, but that she
failed to do so. The juvenile court found that Mother's
efforts "do not even come close to what would be
necessary to return the child to [her] care." Because
"a foundation for the court's decision exists in the
evidence, " we affirm the juvenile court's order
finding that Mother severely neglected J.S. and was an unfit
parent. See In re B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12.
Furthermore, because the record supports the determination
that Mother is unfit and neglected her child due to her
habitual drug use, we need not address Mother's
alternative challenges to the other grounds supporting the
termination of her parental rights. See Utah Code
Ann. § 78A-6-507(1).
Mother next asserts that the juvenile court failed to give
appropriate weight to her fundamental liberty interest in the
care, custody, and management of her child. Utah law
recognizes that parents have a fundamental liberty interest
in the care, custody, and management of their children See
In re SF, 2012 UT App 10, ¶ 29, 268 P.3d 831
However, the state retains a compelling interest in
protecting children from abuse and neglect See In re
SA, 2001 UT App 307, ¶ 25, 37 P.3d 1166
Notwithstanding a parent's fundamental liberty interest
in the custody, care, and management of his or her child, a
parent shown by clear and convincing evidence to be unfit can
be permanently deprived of all parental rights See In re
JP, 648 P.2d 1364, 1377 (Utah 1982) Recently, this court
observed that "parental rights, although fundamental and
constitutionally protected, are not absolute, and the State
has a moral and statutory obligation to step in and protect
children when those children are suffering from neglect or
abuse" In re CC, 2017 UT App 134, ¶ 46
(Christiansen, J, concur ring). Because the record contains
ample evidence that Mother was unfit and neglected her child,
the juvenile court properly concluded that there was a
compelling interest in terminating Mother's parental
rights. See id.
Finally, if the juvenile court determines that there are
sufficient grounds to terminate parental rights, the juvenile
court must next find that the best interests and welfare of
the child are served by terminating the parent's parental
rights. See In re R.A.J., 1999 UT App 329, ¶ 7,
991 P.2d 1118. Although Mother does not challenge the
juvenile court's determination that it was in the
child's best interest to terminate her parental rights,
the record supports the juvenile court's determination
that it was in the child's best interest to do so.
Because "a foundation for the court's ...