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State ex rel. L.M.

Court of Appeals of Utah

October 31, 2019

State of Utah, in the interest of L.M., a person under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. A.M., Appellant,

          Third District Juvenile Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Susan Eisenman No. 1150593

          Julie George, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys for Appellee

          Martha Pierce, Guardian ad Litem

          Before Judges Gregory K. Orme, and Michele M. Christiansen Forster, and Ryan M. Harris.


          PER CURIAM:

         ¶1 A.M. (Mother) appeals the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights in her child, L.M. Mother's petition on appeal is unfocused and fails to actually state an issue for review, although it is clear that Mother disagrees with the juvenile court's order. Generously read, Mother challenges the finding that the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) provided reasonable reunification services and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting grounds for termination.

         ¶2 "Trial courts are in the best position to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, the parent's level of participation in reunification services, and whether services were appropriately tailored to remedy the problems that led to the child's removal." In re K.F., 2009 UT 4, ¶ 52, 201 P.3d 985. Accordingly, "juvenile courts have broad discretion in determining whether reasonable reunification efforts were made." Id.

         ¶3 Here, reunification services began with a domestic violence assessment. The assessment concluded that Mother was in "extreme danger" from Father "and recommended ten sessions of domestic violence victim treatment." DCFS referred Mother for this treatment, as recommended by the assessment, but it took Mother five months to complete the classes because she "frequently" missed them. DCFS also brought in its domestic violence specialist to consult on the case. The specialist was involved throughout the case, "participated in team meetings and provided additional support and resources for [Mother] as a victim of domestic violence." After Mother completed the domestic violence treatment program, DCFS referred her to individual therapy.

         ¶4 Based upon the record before us, we cannot say that the juvenile court abused its discretion in finding that DCFS provided reasonable reunification services to Mother. The services were tailored to remedy the issues that led to Child's removal and give Mother the opportunity to address the domestic violence issues in this case. First, to the extent that "more intensive services" may have been helpful to Mother, Mother's own dishonesty regarding her ongoing involvement with Father prevented DCFS from recognizing any arguable need for additional services during the reunification period. In any event, the domestic violence services provided to Mother were extensive and included a domestic violence assessment, a domestic violence course, individual therapy, and the ongoing services of a domestic violence specialist. These services were "at the level suggested by the experts" who conducted Mother's domestic violence assessment and were clearly aimed at alleviating "the myriad psychological, social, and economic constraints that undermine abused women's efforts to leave their abusers and protect their children from exposure to domestic violence." See In re C. C, 2017 UT App 134, ¶ 47, 402 P.3d 17 (Christiansen, J, concurring). That Mother did not succeed in breaking free from an abusive relationship is unfortunate, but cannot reasonably be attributed to a lack of appropriate services.

         ¶5 Mother next asserts that the evidence was insufficient to establish grounds for termination. Whether a parent's rights should be terminated is a mixed question of law and fact. In re B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12, 171 P.3d 435. The ultimate conclusion that a parent is unfit or that other grounds for termination have been established is a legal question, "but such decisions rely heavily on the juvenile court's assessment and weighing of the facts in any given case." Id. Because of the factually intense nature of parental termination proceedings, "the juvenile court's decision should be afforded a high degree of deference." Id. Accordingly, to overturn a juvenile court's decision, the decision must be "against the clear weight of the evidence." Id. "When a foundation for the [juvenile] court's decision exists in the evidence, an appellate court may not engage in a reweighing of the evidence." Id.

         ¶6 The juvenile court found multiple grounds for termination of Mother's parental rights. See Utah Code § 78A-6-507(1) (LexisNexis 2018) (listing grounds for termination of parental rights). A finding of any single ground is sufficient to support termination of parental rights. Id. Among the grounds found by the juvenile court was that Mother had failed to remedy the circumstances leading to the removal of Child. Id. § 78A-6-507(1)(d). The juvenile court may terminate a parent's rights if it finds

that the child is being cared for in an out-of-home placement under the supervision of the court or the [DCFS]; that the parent has substantially neglected, willfully refused, or has been unable or unwilling to remedy the circumstances that cause the child to be in an out-of-home placement; and that there is a substantial likelihood that the parent will not be capable of exercising proper and effective parental care in the near future. Id.

         ¶7 Here, the evidence was sufficient to support the juvenile court's determination that Mother had failed to remedy the circumstances leading to Child's removal. Mother lost custody of Child primarily due to domestic violence concerns and Child was in a DCFS supervised placement. Although Mother completed a domestic violence class of ten sessions over several months and had access to a domestic violence ...

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