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In re Termination of Rights to EMM

Supreme Court of Wyoming

April 6, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO: EMM, MRM, and GRM, minor children.
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, Appellee (Petitioner). AMBER LYNN MARIE HURD, Appellant (Respondent),

          Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Catherine R. Rogers, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Donna D. Domonkos, Domonkos Law Office, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; Misha Westby, Deputy Attorney General; Jill E. Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Wendy S. Ross, Senior Assistant Attorney General.

          Guardian Ad Litem: Dan S. Wilde, Deputy State Public Defender, Aaron S. Hockman, Chief Trial and Appellate Counsel, Wyoming Guardian ad Litem Program, a division of the Office of the State Public Defender.

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

          FOX, Justice.

         [¶1] Amber Lynn Marie Hurd (Mother) did not respond to the petition of the Department of Family Services (DFS) to terminate her parental rights within 20 days after service. Upon the application of DFS, the clerk of court entered default against Mother. Approximately four months after being served, Mother filed a motion to set aside the entry of default. Mother appeals the district court's denial of her motion. We affirm.

         ISSUE

         [¶2] We rephrase Mother's single issue as follows: Did the district court abuse its discretion when it determined that Mother had not shown good cause to set aside the entry of default?

         FACTS

         [¶3] Mother is the natural mother of three children, born in 2008, 2009, and 2011, who have spent the majority of their lives in the care and custody of others. In June 2014, after nearly three years in the guardianship of their grandmother, the children returned to Mother's full-time care. The next month, DFS received a report that Mother and her boyfriend were physically abusing the children and forcing them to stay in a bedroom without food, water, or access to a bathroom. DFS visited Mother's residence and observed severe bruising on two of the children and a paddle on which "A** Beater" and the children's names were written. On August 1, 2014, the juvenile court placed the three children in custody of DFS and thereafter adjudicated Mother as having neglected the children. In a separate proceeding in district court, Mother was convicted of felony child abuse and, after failing to meet the conditions of her probation, was incarcerated at the Wyoming Women's Center.

         [¶4] In March 2016, DFS initiated this case by filing in district court a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights against Mother and the fathers of the children.[1] DFS personally served the petition and summons on Mother at the Wyoming Women's Center on March 22, 2016. Mother did not file a responsive pleading or otherwise defend the petition within 20 days and, upon DFS's application, the clerk of court entered default against Mother on April 12, 2016. The following week, the district court issued an order setting a default hearing. Copies of the application for entry of default, the entry of default, and the order setting the default hearing were served on Mother by mail.

         [¶5] Mother first responded to the termination petition approximately four months after it was personally served on her. In July 2016, Mother mailed letters to the district court and to counsel for DFS asking that the case be put "on hold" and that she be provided court-appointed counsel. The district court vacated the default hearing and provided to Mother the paperwork necessary to obtain court-appointed counsel. Shortly thereafter, Mother's court-appointed attorney entered her appearance, filed a response to the termination petition, and filed a motion to set aside the entry of default.

         [¶6] The district court held a hearing on the motion to set aside the entry of default. Mother testified that, prior to receiving the termination petition, the juvenile court had changed the permanency plan from reunification to adoption. Mother stated that she assumed the termination petition was part of the juvenile case. Further, she believed (incorrectly) that she was still represented by counsel in that case. Regardless, upon ...


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