IN THE INTEREST OF: L-MHB, A Minor Child, DM, f/k/a DF, Appellant (Respondent),
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Petitioner).
from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable
Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge
Representing Appellant: Deborah L. Roden of Woodhouse Roden
Nethercott, LLC, Cheyenne, WY. Argument by Ms. Roden.
Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney
General; Misha E. Westby, Deputy Attorney General; Jill E.
Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General; and Shawnna M.
Herron, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms.
Guardian Ad Litem: Office of the State Public Defender: Dan
S. Wilde, Deputy State Public Defender; and Aaron S. Hockman,
Chief Trial and Appellate Counsel, Wyoming Guardian ad Litem
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
DM (Mother) gave birth to L-MHB on April 15, 2014, and the
child was immediately placed in protective custody due to
concerns that Mother was a danger to her and was unable to
properly care for her. The juvenile court held timely shelter
care, initial, and adjudicatory hearings, but there were
inordinate delays in the court's issuance of
adjudication, disposition, and permanency orders.
Mother appeals the court's permanency order, which
changed the permanency plan for L-MHB from family
reunification to adoption. She contends that the order
violated her due process rights, made inadequate findings,
and was not supported by sufficient evidence. We affirm.
Mother states the issues on appeal as:
The juvenile court's order changing permanency violated
DM's constitutional due process rights because it was
entered without notice or an opportunity to be heard, counted
pre-adjudication and disposition delay against DM, and failed
to make the requisite statutory findings on permanency.
Mother gave birth to L-MHB on April 15, 2014, and on April
17, 2014, the State filed a petition alleging neglect.
Attached to the State's petition was an affidavit by the
pediatrician who examined L-MHB shortly after her birth. The
1. At 10:18 P.M. on April 15, 2014, [Mother] gave birth to a
baby girl at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.
2. I placed a protective hold on [Mother's] baby because
I believe that the baby would be in danger if she were to be
discharged or in the hospital room with [Mother].
3. I believe the baby is in danger for the following reasons:
a. [Mother] was an inpatient on Cheyenne Regional's
Behavioral Health Unit twice during this pregnancy. Both
admissions she reported suicidal tendencies. Her verbalized
suicide plans ensured that the unborn baby she was pregnant
with would also die.
b. During an inpatient behavioral health admission [Mother]
asked staff how she could kill the baby she was carrying, and
how long it would take to kill the baby.
c. [Mother] has reported using drugs during this pregnancy.
d. [Mother] has not followed up with a mental health
treatment regime despite her hospitalizations and is not
currently on medication for her depression or suicidal
e. [Mother] is unhygienic and I feel she is unable to
properly care for her child.
f. [Mother] has relayed that she stops breathing at night
and that her dog must jump on her to restart her breathing.
4. As such, I believe that the Department of Family Services
needs to take protective custody of [Mother's] child.
On April 17, 2014, the juvenile court held a shelter care
hearing, which was attended by Mother and her attorney.
Following that hearing and on that same date, the court
issued a shelter care order directing that legal custody of
L-MHB remain with the State and that she be placed in foster
care upon discharge from the hospital. On April 22, 2014, the
court issued an order directing the Department of Family
Services (DFS) to prepare a predispositional report.
On May 8, 2014, the juvenile court held the first of two
initial hearings. During that hearing, Mother's attorney
indicated that he had a potential conflict of interest, and
the court continued the proceeding to ensure Mother had
counsel before admitting or denying the neglect petition
allegations. Mother's attorney also informed the court
that Mother was concerned that she was being denied
visitation with her child. Counsel for the State responded to
those concerns, explaining:
[Mother's Attorney] indicated that the mother's
visits have stopped. At this time, that is correct. She has
been very threatening to the supervising staff at her last
visit. She displayed a knife that she had brought to the
visit, and the supervisor had safety concerns about that. She
has made a number of threatening statements about murdering
people, about the State messing with the wrong family, such
that the supervisors who supervise the visits have concerns
for their safety, and the safety of the child.
That being said, it is the intention of the team that works
with her to try and meet with her to see if we can't
establish some ground rules so that we could begin visits
again, but until that occurs, at this time we're going to
quickly run out of individuals willing to supervise her with
that type of behavior. So at this time, there are no visits
going on, but we hope to remedy that shortly.
At the close of the first initial hearing, the juvenile court
ordered legal custody to remain with the State and L-MHB to
remain in foster care. The court also instructed Mother to
cooperate with DFS and attend meetings of the
multidisciplinary team (MDT).
On May 29, 2014, the juvenile court held a second initial
hearing. Mother denied the allegations of the neglect
petition, informed the court that she had not been permitted
visitation with the child since the first initial hearing,
and requested that visitation be resumed. Counsel for the
I do have a letter from her treating psychiatrist, which does
not recommend visits at this time. I would also share with
the Court that we did make efforts to see whether or not the
Laramie County Sheriff's Department would be willing to
participate with us in providing some assistance for
supervised visits, and currently, based upon the information
they've received, they are unwilling to do that.
So we are not in a position where we feel that we can ensure
the safety of the child, and would ask again that the Court
consider at this time ordering no visitation.
Following the second initial hearing, the juvenile court
again ordered legal custody to remain with the State and
L-MHB to remain in foster care. With respect to visitation,
the court did not foreclose visitation, but ordered any
visitation to be supervised and at the discretion of DFS and
the child's guardian ad litem (GAL).
On July 22, 2014, the juvenile court held an adjudicatory
hearing. After hearing the State's and Mother's
evidence, the court took the adjudication under advisement.
On November 20, 2014, the court held its first statutorily
required six-month review hearing. By the time of this first
review hearing, the court had not issued an adjudication
order. Additionally, Mother had married and moved to Casper,
Wyoming with her new husband, and Mother's attorney
indicated that she would be filing a motion to transfer the
case to Casper. The court commented:
Very well. And I'll indicate to you that, while, as I
say, regrettably it's been under advisement, the Court
does have the record of the proceeding and the exhibits to
review, but that review will occur shortly. Probably give it
a week before you file your motion, because, of course,
depending on the ruling, there may be no motion to file.
The Court will today direct, whether it's for a week or
through to disposition, depending on the ruling, I will order
in the interim that the minor remain in the legal custody of
the State, and subject to foster care at this point.
About four months later, on March 24, 2015, the juvenile
court issued a decision letter directing entry of an order
adjudicating Mother neglectful. The court wrote:
I am writing to direct entry of an order adjudicating the
mother neglectful. The trial of the matter on July 22, 2014,
should have resulted in findings and an order. There is no
indication as to why the order was never entered, other than
this Court not formalizing the matter. This delay is neither
contrary to the minor's interests, nor the mother's,
as review activity has continued in the normal course of
events despite the absence of formal adjudication.
The Court has reviewed the matter, including the record of
all proceedings and finds by clear and convincing evidence
that the minor here was neglected and subject to probable and
imminent abuse or harm as the mother was unable to safely
provide for her baby upon its birth due to her compromised
The mother admits some, but not all of the statements she
made to the medical professionals, including expression,
pre-birth, of her intentions to step in front of a truck and
end her and the baby's lives. Her own suicidal ideations
and some actions taken just prior to birth make out a present
danger to the baby upon birth.
She expressed notions immediately following the birth which
evidenced paranoia and a complete disconnect with reality
that also made her a danger to the baby. She was, at the time
of the filing of this Petition, totally incapable of caring
for anyone safely. For instance, her insistence that an
ex-boyfriend had his friends positioned as snipers around the
hospital, (a statement repeated, and apparently believed by
the mother at trial in July, many months later), make it
clear her well established mental condition make her a danger
to the minor.
[Counsel for the State] is to prepare the order in this
regard, including a directive that the matter be set for
disposition. [Counsel for Mother] is to approve the order to
form. Any objections to the procedure should be drawn to the
Court's attention by Motion within fifteen (15) days of
the order being entered.
On April 15, 2015, the juvenile court entered its
adjudication order, adjudicating L-MHB neglected and Mother
as having neglected L-MHB. Mother did not appeal or file an
objection to the adjudication order. On April 23, 2015,
Mother filed a motion to change venue, and the court combined
the hearing on that motion with its disposition hearing,
which was held on May 20, 2015. At the disposition hearing,
the court heard argument and recommendations from the State,
the GAL, and Mother, both on disposition and the motion to
transfer venue. The court then orally ruled that it would
deny Mother's venue motion and further ruled:
The dispositional order will continue the legal custody in
the State, and placement of the minor, and cooperation by
[Mother] with the case plan. It is imperative - this year has
gone by - not only months have gone by the time of the
adjudicatory hearing, but even at the adjudicatory hearing,
it was evident to this Court that she did not even back off
of some of - if they were delusions or they were real and
they were just very strange, whatever they were, she is an
individual who struggles. There is no question that she's
struggling. This Court is not separating her from this child
because she is, sadly, struggling with mental illness.
I separated and continue to separate this woman from this
child for the baby's safety. And the safety net that
could have developed over the last year - with no visitation,
the safety net could have developed, and work could have been
done all along the way that has not been done. Now, she is
someone clearly who doesn't want the government, and
medical providers and so forth in her life, or the government
to know what her medical providers say.
There is no way out of it now[.] [Mother] has got to comply
with this case plan. There has got to be this sharing of a
complete psychological evaluation, and at this point, in the
child's interest, there has to be deadlines. The complete
psychological evaluation completed and in the hands of the
guardian ad litem immediately, or no longer than sixty days,
and at the same time, any identified mental health provider
has to be identified as having a release from her to speak to
the Department and to the guardian ad litem.
That is a horrible invasion of privacy. I absolutely
understand it, and I can even imagine [Mother's] face if
she was in the courtroom to me saying this, but this is a
baby, and if that baby is going to go safely home, I have to
know these things, and a year has gone by. That is
unacceptable. And there are procedural glitches and all that.
We've done our review hearings, but there have been
procedural glitches, but what's done is done. We have to
reunify this family, and step one is that case plan.
On July 23, 2015, the juvenile court entered its written
disposition order. The order directed that legal custody of
L-MHB would remain with the State, placement would remain
foster care through DFS, and family reunification would
remain the goal. The order further directed, consistent with
the court's oral ruling, that Mother: Continue to comply
with her case plan; complete a psychological evaluation
within sixty days of the May 20, 2015 disposition hearing and
provide those results to DFS and the GAL; immediately sign
and provide all releases from any mental health providers to
DFS and the GAL; and participate in random UAs.
On November 5, 2015, the court held another six-month review
hearing. The State and GAL recommended that a
permanency hearing be held and that the permanency plan be
changed from reunification to adoption. Mother maintained
that reunification should remain the goal. On that same date,
the court issued an order finding that reasonable efforts to
reunify were being made and directing that family
reunification remain ...