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In re B.S.

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 19, 2019

In re B.S. and D.S.

          Braxton County 17-JA-26 and 17-JA-27

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Mother M.S., by counsel Jared S. Frame, appeals the Circuit Court of Braxton County's October 24, 2018, order terminating her parental and custodial rights to B.S. and D.S.[1]The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources ("DHHR"), by counsel Mindy M. Parsley, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order and a supplemental appendix. The guardian ad litem ("guardian"), David Karickhoff, filed a response on behalf of the child, also in support of the circuit court's order. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in terminating her parental rights when she made substantial progress in her improvement period and when she had a bond with the children.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         Prior to the initiation of the instant proceedings, the DHHR filed a child abuse and neglect petition against petitioner in 2009 regarding B.S.[2] At some point, petitioner was granted an improvement period. Petitioner successfully completed her improvement period, and the child was returned to her care after the petition against her was dismissed.

         In August of 2017, the DHHR filed the instant child abuse and neglect petition against petitioner and the father. According to the petition, the children's health or welfare was threatened or harmed by petitioner's refusal to provide the children with the necessary food, clothing, shelter, supervision, medical care, or education. Specifically, the DHHR alleged that petitioner had a substance abuse problem and had twice been arrested for related issues. Petitioner was first arrested in January of 2017 for driving under the influence with B.S. in the car. She was later arrested again in March of 2017 for a probation violation and possession of a controlled substance without a valid prescription. Petitioner pled guilty to the charges, was sentenced to ninety days of incarceration, and was subsequently released in July of 2017. The DHHR concluded that the children's welfare was threatened due to petitioner's arrests and continued use of illegal controlled substances.

         The circuit court held an adjudicatory hearing in September of 2017, wherein petitioner stipulated to the allegations contained in the petition. The circuit court accepted petitioner's stipulation, adjudicated her as an abusing parent, and granted her a post-adjudicatory improvement period. As part of the terms and conditions, petitioner was required to remain drug and alcohol free, participate in a psychological evaluation and follow the recommendations made, participate in parenting and adult life skills classes, obtain and maintain employment and suitable housing, attend Narcotics Anonymous ("NA") or Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") sessions until she could enroll in a long-term inpatient substance abuse treatment program, and successfully complete a long-term inpatient substance abuse treatment program. Petitioner was also granted supervised visitation with the children contingent on her ability to remain drug and alcohol free.

         Petitioner initially complied with her improvement period and entered a long-term inpatient substance abuse treatment program. However, despite petitioner's successful completion of the treatment program, she relapsed only a short time after her release. The DHHR filed a motion requesting that the circuit court terminate petitioner's improvement period. After holding a hearing on the motion in August of 2018, the circuit court terminated petitioner's improvement period and set the matter for disposition.

         The circuit court held a dispositional hearing in September of 2018. Petitioner failed to attend but was represented by counsel. Counsel for petitioner requested a continuance due to petitioner's absence, and the circuit court denied the same. A service provider testified that petitioner completed a six-month inpatient rehabilitation program, but ceased complying with services approximately one month following her release from the program. Petitioner had not attended any parenting or adult life skills classes since June of 2018 and she was also fired from her employment. Testimony established that petitioner had resumed abusing drugs and, immediately following the hearing on the DHHR's motion to terminate petitioner's improvement period, tested positive for methamphetamine and tetrahydrocannabinol ("THC"). A second service provider testified that petitioner attended two supervised visits with the children in April of 2018, but subsequently ceased participating. A forensic psychologist testified that, after performing a psychological evaluation of petitioner, he determined petitioner's prognosis for correcting her parenting issues or developing the ability to properly parent her children was very poor. The psychologist stated that, given petitioner's substance abuse, she was unable to keep the children safe.

         After hearing evidence, the circuit found that, while petitioner had made significant strides in the case and attempted to overcome her drug addiction, she failed to follow through with treatment. The evidence established that petitioner continued to associate with drug users, failed to comply with services, and remained addicted to drugs, which negatively affected her ability to properly parent the children. Finding that there was no reasonable likelihood that petitioner could correct the conditions of abuse and neglect in the near future and that it was contrary to the children's best interest to remain in her care, the circuit court terminated petitioner's parental rights. It is from the October 24, 2018, dispositional order that petitioner appeals.[3]

         The Court has previously established the following standard of review:

"Although conclusions of law reached by a circuit court are subject to de novo review, when an action, such as an abuse and neglect case, is tried upon the facts without a jury, the circuit court shall make a determination based upon the evidence and shall make findings of fact and conclusions of law as to whether such child is abused or neglected. These findings shall not be set aside by a reviewing court unless clearly erroneous. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support the finding, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. However, a reviewing court may not overturn a finding simply because it would have decided the case differently, and it must affirm a finding if the circuit court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety." Syl. Pt. 1, In Interest of Tiffany Marie S., 196 W.Va. 223, 470 S.E.2d 177 (1996).

Syl. Pt. 1, In re Cecil T., 228 W.Va. 89, 717 S.E.2d 873 (2011).

         In her brief on appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in terminating her parental rights when she had "almost completed" her improvement period.[4] Despite her relapse after intensive treatment, petitioner avers that she was willing to comply but needed additional services. Further, petitioner argues that a DHHR worker and service provider testified that petitioner had a strong bond with the children and, as such, additional services were warranted before terminating her parental rights. We disagree.

         To begin, petitioner fails to demonstrate that she was entitled to a post-dispositional improvement period. Pursuant to West Virginia Code § 49-4-610(3)(D), a circuit court ...


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