IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO HLL and KGS, Minor Children: CLB, Appellant (Respondent),
STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, Appellee (Petitioner)
from the District Court of Uinta County. The Honorable Joseph
B. Bluemel, Judge.
Appellant: Ariel C. Calmes, Harris Law Office, P.C.,
Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; Misha
Westby, Deputy Attorney General; Jill E. Kucera, Senior
Assistant Attorney General; David S. Robinson, Assistant
Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Robinson.
ad Litem: Office of the State Public Defender: Dan S. Wilde,
Deputy State Public Defender; Aaron S. Hockman, Chief Trial
and Appellate Counsel, Wyoming Guardian ad Litem Program,
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
[¶1] Appellant Mother challenges a district
court decision terminating parental rights to two of her
minor children pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § §
14-2-309(a)(iv) and (v) (LexisNexis 2015). She presents a
myriad of arguments, ranging from a challenge to subject
matter jurisdiction to a claim that the evidence was
insufficient to support the termination. We affirm.
[¶2] Mother presents the following issues,
which we have refined and reordered somewhat:
1. Did the district court have jurisdiction over the
2. Does W.R.C.P. 55, governing default, apply in parental
3. If so, did the district court abuse its discretion by
denying Mother's request to set aside an entry of
4. Did the district court correctly conclude that the
Department presented clear and convincing evidence to support
the termination of Mother's parental rights to two of her
[¶3] Mother has had six children, but
currently has custody of none of them. Her first child died
at fourteen months from blunt force trauma to the head.
Mother was convicted of third degree felony child abuse for
her role in that tragedy. Mother's rights to her second
child were either relinquished or terminated, so far as we
can tell from the record. Rights to her third and fourth
children were terminated by default. Mother's rights to
the remaining two children, HLL and KGS, are the subject of
[¶4] HLL was born in 2001 and KGS arrived a
few years later in 2003. By all accounts, these children have
had a very tough life. In 2007, Wyoming's Department of
Family Services (Department) became aware of the children
when Mother moved with them to Wyoming from Utah. The Utah
Department of Child and Family Services had an open case with
Mother, and as a result it contacted the Department and asked
that it follow up with the family and offer Mother and the
children services. Mother opted not to accept the services
offered by the Department, and that case was closed.
[¶5] A year later, in 2008, the Department
received a report from law enforcement that Mother had
physically abused both children. In an attempt to hide the
injuries she had inflicted on them, she kept them out of
school and barricaded them in the basement of their house for
a week. After uncovering the situation, law enforcement
exercised protective custody and took the children to the
emergency room for immediate medical treatment.
[¶6] A petition to begin child protection
proceedings was filed, and temporary custody was transferred
to the Department pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §
14-3-208. The juvenile court adjudicated that Mother
had abused and neglected the children. Criminal charges were
also brought, and Mother was again convicted of felony child
abuse. Nevertheless, the children were reunified with Mother
in the summer of 2009, with the juvenile case remaining open
under Department supervision for an additional year.
[¶7] Over the next four years, Mother
continued to have run-ins with law enforcement and the
Department. She was arrested for aggravated assault in 2011.
HLL and KGS witnessed the assault, after which Mother took
the children and hid with them from law enforcement until she
was eventually arrested. She then left HLL and KGS with a
friend while she was sent to substance abuse treatment. The
Department opened a case and offered services to the children
and the friend taking care of them. Mother was apparently
reunited with the children after this crisis passed.
[¶8] On January 29, 2013, Mother became
intoxicated and committed a felony aggravated assault and
battery on a girlfriend. She beat the woman with a baseball
bat, causing significant injuries. HLL and KGS were in the
home during the beating, which occurred just outside.
Afterwards, Mother told the children to help cover blood in
the snow and to clean blood off the baseball bat. She then
directed HLL to hide the bat and fabricated a story for the
children to tell in order to create a false alibi if anyone
asked what had happened.
[¶9] The next day, on January 30, Mother was
arrested for the battery, and the children were left with a
friend. The day after that, January 31, law enforcement
officers conducted a welfare check at the friend's home.
The officers found the children without adult supervision and
learned that KGS was caring for her sister and the
friend's children as well. There was no food in the home;
the friend was limited in food stamps and could not provide
for HLL and KGS. The officers took HLL and KGS into
protective custody that same day.
[¶10] On February 1, 2013, the county
attorney's office filed a petition in juvenile court
alleging that Mother had abused and neglected HLL and KGS.
The court held a shelter care hearing the same day, after
which it placed both children in the legal custody of the
Department. HLL and KGS have remained in the Department's
custody since that time. Mother subsequently admitted to the
allegations that she neglected them.
[¶11] On May 29, 2013, Mother was convicted
of assault and battery in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §
6-2-502(a)(ii) and (b) for the baseball bat attack, for which
she received a sentence of three to six years in prison. She
was incarcerated at the Wyoming Women's Center in Lusk,
Wyoming at the time of briefing and argument in this
[¶12] This case began when the Department
filed a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights
(petition) against Mother on October 23, 2014. It alleged two
grounds for termination pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §
§ 14-2-309(a)(iv) and (v). Mother was personally served
with the petition at the Women's Center on November 5,
2014. However, she failed to timely answer, plead, or
[¶13] On December 8, 2014, the clerk of
court entered default against Mother. The district court then
set the matter for a default hearing on March 19, 2015. On
February 17, 2015, Mother filed a document which the parties
have treated as a motion to set aside the default, and she
also requested that the court appoint her counsel. The motion
was heard on March 19, the date set for the default hearing.
Mother attended telephonically without an attorney. The
district court heard from Mother regarding her reasons for
failing to answer, which it did not find convincing.
Accordingly, it determined that Mother failed to present a
prima facie case of good cause to set aside the
default, and it denied her request for that relief.
Nevertheless, it appointed Mother an attorney for the default
hearing on termination of her parental rights, and reset that
hearing to May 8, 2015 to allow counsel time to prepare.
[¶14] At the hearing on May 8, the
Department presented testimony and evidence intended to
establish clearly and convincingly that Mother's parental
rights to HLL and KSG should be terminated. The district
court permitted Mother's appointed attorney to give an
opening statement, cross-examine the Department's
witnesses, make objections, and deliver a closing argument.
The court found that clear and convincing evidence
established that Mother's parental rights to HLL and KGS
should be terminated under Wyo. ...