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In re SO

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 17, 2016

IN THE INTEREST OF SO, a Minor Child: PM and JM, Appellants (Respondents),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Petitioner), and FH and RH, Appellees (Respondents).

         Appeal from the District Court of Sheridan County The Honorable John G. Fenn, Judge

          Representing Appellants: Timothy C. Cotton, CottonLegal, Casper, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee, State of Wyoming: Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; Misha Westby, Deputy Attorney General; Jill E. Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Kucera.

          Representing Appellees, FH and RH: No appearance.

          Guardian Ad Litem: Dan S. Wilde, Deputy Director, Aaron S. Hockman, Permanency Attorney, and Christopher W. Goetz, Student Intern, Wyoming Guardian Ad Litem Program.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          BURKE, Chief Justice.

         [¶1] Appellants JM and PM are the grandmother and step-grandfather of SO. SO is currently in the legal custody of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, and has been in the physical care of Foster Parents since three days after her birth on February 4, 2013. Grandparents filed a motion seeking to transfer placement of SO from Foster Parents to Grandparents. The juvenile court denied the motion and Grandparents challenge that decision in this appeal. We affirm.

         ISSUE

         [¶2] The issue in this case is whether the juvenile court abused its discretion when it denied the "Motion for Placement of Minor Child with Grandparents."

         FACTS

         [¶3] At the time of her birth, SO's Mother was in pretrial custody at the Natrona County jail in Casper, Wyoming. Wyoming's Department of Family Services took the child into protective custody. Because Mother's four older children were already in DFS custody in Sheridan, Wyoming, DFS relocated SO to Sheridan, where she was placed in Foster Parents' care on February 7, 2013. On February 21, 2013, Mother was released from jail on bond and moved to Sheridan. On March 12, 2013, DFS filed a petition alleging that SO was a neglected child and that Mother was unable to provide proper care for her. During the initial hearing, Mother admitted the allegations, and the juvenile court adjudicated SO as a neglected child. The court ordered that SO would remain in the legal custody of DFS and in the physical custody of Foster Parents.

         [¶4] In April of 2013, DFS sent a "Notice to Relative" form to Grandparents and other relatives of SO, informing them that SO had been removed from Mother's care and was in the custody of the State. The form indicated to Grandparents that, "[a]s a relative, you may be considered for short or long term placement of this child, if you agree, and your home is considered an appropriate placement option." Grandparents returned the form to DFS as requested, indicating they were "interested in making contact with this child and being a positive support in this child's life." They did not check the box indicating they were "interested in being considered as a possible placement resource for this child."

         [¶5] In the meantime, Mother's criminal proceedings continued. Ultimately, Mother pled guilty to a charge of possession of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent, and was sentenced to three to five years in prison. The sentence was suspended, and Mother was placed on probation with a requirement that she complete an in-patient substance abuse treatment program. She entered a treatment program on June 20, 2013. Mother did not complete the program, however, and was discharged from the treatment facility ...


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