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In re LB

Supreme Court of Wyoming

January 23, 2014

In the Interest of LB, BO, KO, Minors,
v.
DH and CB, Appellees (Respondents) State of Wyoming, Department of Family Services, Appellant (Petitioner), and State of Wyoming, Appellee (Petitioner).

Representing Appellant: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Peter K. Michael, Chief Deputy Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; Jill E. Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Christina F. McCabe, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. McCabe.

Representing Appellees DH and CB: No appearance.

Page 1185

Representing Appellee State of Wyoming: Martin L. Hardsocg, Deputy Attorney General; Lisa K. Finkey, Special Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Finkey.

Guardian Ad Litem: Dan S. Wilde and Aaron S. Hockman. Argument by Mr. Hockman.

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT,[*]BURKE, and DAVIS, JJ.

VOIGT, Justice.

[¶ 1] The State filed a neglect petition in the interests of BO and KO after the Department of Family Services (DFS) received reports regarding the care the children were receiving from their mother, DH, and stepfather, CB. [1] After DFS' efforts to reunify BO and KO with DH failed, the juvenile court ordered the children to remain in the custody of their father, SO, and that DFS move to terminate the parental rights of DH to those children. DFS appeals that order, claiming it cannot move to terminate DH's parental rights because it does not have custody of the children and, therefore, is not an " authorized agency" under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-310(a)(iii).

ISSUE [2]

[¶ 2] Before DFS can be considered an " authorized agency" that may file a petition to terminate one's parental rights, must DFS have custody of the child or children in question?

FACTS

[¶ 3] In August 2011, the State filed a petition in juvenile court, alleging that BO and KO were being neglected by their mother, DH. The children, who resided with their father, SO, in Illinois, were visiting DH for the summer in Wyoming. DFS received a call that DH and CB were involved in physical confrontations while the children were in the home. It was also reported that the children were wearing dirty clothes, they did not have any shoes, DH's home had dirty dishes and garbage strewn all over, and the house was unbearably hot. Further, DFS was told that DH admitted to using methamphetamine and was seen " strung out" while with the children. Although DH denied using methamphetamine while the children were in her care, a urinalysis taken at the request of DFS tested positive for methamphetamine and cocaine.

[¶ 4] After a bench trial, the juvenile court adjudicated BO and KO as neglected children. The juvenile court ordered the children to remain in the custody of their father, SO, while under the protective supervision of DFS. Thereafter, the parties participated in multi-disciplinary team meetings in anticipation of the juvenile court's determination regarding the disposition of the petition. Approximately one year after the petition had been filed, the juvenile court held a permanency hearing where it heard what progress all of the parties had made with respect to the recommendations made in the multi-disciplinary team meetings. Based upon that information, the juvenile court ordered that the permanency plan for BO, KO, and DH remain reunification, contingent upon a modification of the original civil custody order within sixty days.[3] If the order was

Page 1186

not modified, the permanency plan would become the termination of DH's parental ...


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