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In re Termination of Parental Rights to Bad

Supreme Court of Wyoming

August 7, 2019


          Appeal from the District Court of Converse County The Honorable F. Scott Peasley, Judge.

          Timothy C. Cotton, Timothy C. Cotton, PC, Casper, Wyoming.

          Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; Misha Westby, Deputy Attorney General; Jill E. Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Christina F. McCabe, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. McCabe

          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, Cheyenne, Wyoming. No argument.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.

          KAUTZ, Justice.

         [¶1] Appellant Cathy Ann Dunlap (Mother) challenges a district court decision terminating parental rights to three of her minor children pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(iii) and (v) (LexisNexis 2019). Her only claim is that the evidence was insufficient to support the termination. We affirm.


         [¶2] Whether the district court correctly found clear and convincing evidence supported termination of Mother's parental rights.


         [¶3] The following facts are based on the standard of review which requires us to examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, as the party prevailing below, assuming all favorable evidence to be true while discounting conflicting evidence presented by Mother. See SAS v. State of Wyo., Dep't of Family Servs. (In re AGS), 2014 WY 143, ¶ 19, 337 P.3d 470, 477 (Wyo. 2014).

         [¶4] Mother has four children: BD, age 14 at the time of trial; CS, age 8 at the time of trial; AS, age 6 at the time of trial; and JE, age 3 at the time of trial. All four children were removed from Mother's home due to neglect - CS on April 21, 2015, and BD, AS and JE on July 22, 2015. JE was reunified with his father, who satisfactorily completed a case plan and, for a time, disassociated himself from Mother. The other children have been in foster care ever since.

         [¶5] Mother originally lived in Florida, and BD was born there. Florida child protective services became involved with the family two or three times (Mother testified she was not sure if there were two or three interventions) beginning when BD was 2. Mother then moved to Minnesota for two months, and then to Illinois. In Illinois, Mother lived in a truck with BD and her ex-husband. Illinois child protective services became involved, and Mother placed BD, then age 5, in a crisis nursery to avoid having her placed in a foster home. From there, Mother returned to Florida for two weeks, but did not stay due to conflict with her siblings. Mother then moved to Tennessee with her ex-husband and BD. After a very short stay in Tennessee, Mother moved to Minnesota, and when "things [didn't] pan out in Minnesota" Mother, BD and the ex-husband moved to Arkansas. After staying in Arkansas for two months, Mother moved to California for a month, and then relocated to North Dakota in July 2009. Shortly thereafter, CS was born.

         [¶6] In North Dakota, Mother and her children (BD and CS) first lived in a campground, then someone's basement, then a trailer, and then a camper. In December 2009, the State of North Dakota took custody of BD and CS due to inadequate living conditions. BD and CS remained in state custody until September 2012. Mother gave birth to AS in August 2011, who was also placed in foster care by North Dakota. While the children were in the custody of North Dakota child protective services, Mother had a case plan, but did not complete it. At that point, the children's maternal grandmother became their guardian and moved the children back to Florida with her. Mother moved to Florida about five months later.

         [¶7] One year later, in February 2013, the children's maternal grandmother died, and "the children were just back" with Mother. Mother had encounters with police due to verbal altercations with her family, and with child protective services due to allegations of inadequate living conditions for the children. By the end of 2013, Mother moved to Converse County, Wyoming. Child protective services from Florida contacted the Department of Family Services (DFS) in Wyoming, which investigated the family and identified concerns for the children because CS was not potty trained and was not properly dressed.

         [¶8] In September 2014, Wyoming DFS opened a case regarding the children based on school concerns that CS was dirty and suffered from social, academic and emotional issues. Mother refused services offered by DFS. School officials continued to report CS was excessively hungry, inadequately dressed for the weather, and reported her sister, BD, was responsible for feeding her and getting her ready for school. DFS visited Mother's home in January 2015 and found it very dirty. After that visit, DFS provided a counselor for BD, who diagnosed the 11-year-old as suffering from anxiety due to taking on the role of parenting her younger siblings and suffering from PTSD because she had frequently been removed from Mother's home.

         [¶9] In February 2015, the State filed a juvenile case alleging Mother had neglected the children. Mother admitted the allegations. The children remained with Mother, who agreed to "get up in the morning and get her children ready for school and send them out in appropriate attire." Mother failed to do so, resulting in CS being placed in foster care in April 2015. Next, Mother signed a case plan outlining what she should do to properly care for her children. She failed to comply with the basic portions of the plan, and the other children were placed in foster care in July 2015, based on the recommendations of a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT).

         [¶10] Four months later, Mother moved to Casper (although the children remained in foster care in Douglas) and lived in a homeless shelter. She ultimately obtained an apartment in Casper, where she lived for the next year. DFS assisted her with visitation and provided counseling and parenting training. Mother mostly cooperated with DFS but was unable to sufficiently recall and apply parenting strategies to obtain custody of the children. Her counselor described the situation as one where Mother did not remember "what the kids needed every morning, to make sure the laundry was done, to make sure homework was done, backpacks were packed, to make sure that appropriate discipline was used."

         [¶11] From May 8, 2015, to March 1, 2016, Mother agreed to three "Family Service Plans" with DFS, each of which was designed to accomplish "family preservation" (before the children were removed) and "family reunification" (after the children were placed in foster care). Each of those plans advised Mother there was a risk of termination if reunification was not timely accomplished. Each of those plans required Mother to cooperate with therapy for the children, participate in parenting instruction and counseling, put lessons learned into practice, fully cooperate and remain in contact with DFS, seek employment, visit with the children, maintain an appropriately clean and safe household, obtain appropriate housing for the children, obtain and comply with medical care for Mother's seizures, enroll in and successfully complete a parenting class, and obtain services from vocational rehabilitation leading to employment.

         [¶12] In December 2016, Mother had not sufficiently completed the case plan to accomplish reunification with the children. She participated in counseling but was unable to put the things she learned into practice. She visited with the children but was often distracted and did not relate to the children. At times she engaged in inappropriate interactions with them. She qualified for vocational rehabilitation but resisted obtaining employment, fearing it would interfere with her disability income and would cause her "stress." She participated in counseling for the children but became irate and refused to cooperate with a plan for BD because she disagreed with it.

         [¶13] That month, Mother moved to North Dakota to reunite with JE's father. She did not notify DFS before she moved, and after the move, she gave DFS a false address. In North Dakota, she did not participate in any counseling, did not take parenting classes, did not work with vocational rehabilitation, and did not maintain employment. She also did not obtain treatment for her seizures.

         STANDARD ...

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