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In re P.P.

Supreme Court of West Virginia

May 24, 2019

In re P.P.

          Upshur County 18-JA-01

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Mother C.P.-1, by counsel Steven B. Nanners, appeals the Circuit Court of Upshur County's November 5, 2018, order terminating her parental rights to P.P.[1] The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources ("DHHR"), by counsel S.L. Evans, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order. The guardian ad litem ("guardian"), Hunter D. Simmons, 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 adjudicating her as an abusing parent and terminating her parental rights without first granting her request for an improvement period.

         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.

         The parents have an extensive and egregious history of Child Protective Services ("CPS") intervention dating back over a decade. In 2007, the parents gave birth to their first child together, C.P.-2. Shortly thereafter, the father physically abused then-ten-week-old C.P.-2 such that the child suffered two skull fractures, a subdural hematoma, two rib fractures, fingerprint bruising to the forehead and top of the head, and bruising to the back. C.P.-2's injuries were so severe that he required a partial lobotomy to relieve pressure in the skull, leaving him permanently impaired. The DHHR filed a child abuse and neglect petition against the parents, which ultimately resulted in the involuntary termination of petitioner's parental rights. The father voluntarily relinquished his parental rights to C.P.-2, pled guilty to child abuse resulting in bodily injury, and was sentenced to not less than one nor more than five years of incarceration.

         Following the father's release from incarceration in 2010, he and petitioner reunited and had two more children together. The DHHR filed child abuse and neglect petitions against the parents based upon their prior abuse. Petitioner's parental rights to those children were terminated in 2011 and 2013 after the circuit court found that she failed to acknowledge the abuse perpetrated against C.P.-2 or remedy the circumstances of abuse. Petitioner's parental rights to three children from other relationships were also terminated at various times during the proceedings, for a total of six children by that time.

         Petitioner and the father conceived their fourth child together, P.P., who was born in December of 2017. P.P. is the only child at issue on appeal. The DHHR filed the instant child abuse and neglect petition against the parents in January of 2018, alleging aggravated circumstances due to their continued failure to remedy the circumstances that resulted in the termination of their parental rights. Petitioner waived her preliminary hearing.

         In August of 2018, the circuit court held the adjudicatory hearing over the course of two days. Testimony established that the parents' home was clean and appropriate for the child, and that the parents were employed. Further, petitioner appeared concerned about the child, called the DHHR often to inquire about the child's wellbeing, and provided care items for the child. However, during the investigation following P.P.'s birth, petitioner denied responsibility for C.P.-2's injuries and expressed confusion as to why her parental rights to her six older children had been terminated. Indeed, petitioner testified that she was treated unfairly by the DHHR in her prior cases and that her parental rights should not have been terminated. Petitioner denied having stated that the father was "railroaded" into pleading guilty in 2007, but continued to claim that she did not believe that he had intentionally hurt C.P.-2. In fact, the guardian engaged petitioner in a discussion of the same as follows:

[Guardian]: If you hit your head - I mean, the testimony here was, he was in the father's arms and when he sat down, he accidentally hit his head on the arm; how does that break your ribs?
[Petitioner]: I don't know.
[Guardian]: Okay. But you don't think it was anything on [the father's] part to harm him?
[Petitioner]: I don't believe so.

         Petitioner also acknowledged that the DHHR provided services to the family from 2005 through 2015, but testified that they were not helpful. She did, however, pursue domestic violence counseling following an incident in 2016 wherein the father was convicted of domestic battery second offense for his abuse against petitioner. After hearing evidence, the circuit court found that the parents remained untruthful nearly eleven years later regarding the injuries sustained by C.P.-2 and further found that they failed to demonstrate that they

have remedied the problems which led to the prior involuntary terminations sufficient to parent a subsequent-born child as they both continue to fail to acknowledge the prior abuse and neglect of their child and fail to accept any responsibility for the severe physical injury inflicted upon their son.

         Accordingly, the circuit court determined that P.P. had been abused and neglected by her parents due to their failure to correct the conditions that led to the prior termination of ...


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