May 04, 2021

Missouri

ABUSE

DUE PROCESS

State v. Jeffrey, 400 S.W.3d 303 (Mo. 2013). Conviction under statute prohibiting exposing one’s genitals to children was not constitutionally overbroad where defendant was seen by several witnesses standing fully nude through his window. Statute did not interfere with his right of privacy to be nude inside his home or extend to accidental conduct because he could not expect privacy in area immediately viewable through full-length window and his repeated incidents of exposure when young girls were passing allowed inference that his conduct was intentional.

EVIDENCE

State v. Jones, 400 S.W.3d 303 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013). In criminal trial involving the death of mother’s child, trial court erred in admitting mother’s out-of-court statement that she placed her child face down on the pillow without any corroborating evidence that the child’s death resulted from a criminal act. The improper admission constituted plain error; absent this information the jury would merely have heard that the police found the child on the bed not breathing and that the mother was acting suspiciously.

HEARSAY

State v. Green., 358 S.W.3d 546 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012). Trial court properly admitted child’s statement describing her abuse in criminal proceeding despite the lack of a finding of reliability by the court. Statement was made to a professional trained in forensic interviewing, child’s statements to others were consistent, and defendant’s objection was overruled. These factors implied that the court found the statements reliable.

ADOPTION

RELATIVE PLACEMENT

In re I.R.C., 419 S.W.3d 857 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013). In contested adoption proceeding between foster parents and great aunt and uncle, both of whom were found by the court to provide appropriate homes, court acted within its discretion in denying the petition of the relatives. The children had been with the foster parents over a year, the relatives had little contact with the children, and the relatives waited eight months after learning the children were in care to seek visitation or other involvement. 

CUSTODY

NEXT FRIEND

In re R.A.D., 348 S.W.3d 778 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). Putative father could be appointed as child’s next friend in custody proceedings involving never-married parents, instead of appointing a guardian ad litem. Although the putative father had not been found to be the child’s father in paternity and custody proceedings, he was listed on the child’s birth certificate, which satisfied Uniform Parentage Act’s condition that a “father” be named as a next friend. Putative father also qualified under a civil procedure rule permitting any interested party to seek appointment as a next friend, regardless of family relationship.

LEGAL REPRESENTATION

Reno v. Reno, 2015 WL 3372159 (Mo. Ct. App.). After mother filed notice in post-dissolution proceedings that she intended to move to another state with parties’ two minor children, father sought order preventing relocation and moved for appointment of guardian ad litem (GAL). Father did not show evidence of child abuse or neglect was presented at trial, and thus appointment of GAL was not statutorily required.

 

DEPENDENCY

EMOTIONAL ABUSE

In re B.T.C., 382 S.W.3d 193 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012). Trial court erred in finding mother emotionally abused child in dependency adjudication because she made repeated child abuse hotline calls against father. Although the claims were ultimately unsubstantiated, mother had reasonable cause for concern each time.

GROUNDS

In re Y.S.W., 402 S.W.3d 600 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013). Trial court erred in adjudicating children neglected and ordering they remain in custody upon finding parents’ acrimonious relationship harmed children’s well-being. Dependency petitions only contained allegations of sexual abuse and medical neglect, of which the court had not found substantial evidence. Due process and the dependency statute require parents be properly notified and allowed to defend against allegations.

LEGAL REPRESENTATION

State v. Churchill, 454 S.W.3d 328 (Mo. 2015). Where mother lied about having a child in an initial protective hearing, and sought to have the hearing delayed until she got an attorney, trial court did not err in proceeding or allowing her false testimony to later be used in perjury prosecution. Though mother had a right to counsel, initial hearing had to be held within three days and protection from false testimony was not among the rights to be protected in these hearings. FULL SUMMARY

 

State v. Brenda Churchill, 2014 WL 839455 (Mo. Ct. App.). At a juvenile court hearing, mother invoked her statutory right to counsel, which the court failed to appoint and instead encouraged mother to testify. Mother took the stand and perjured herself by lying that she had a son, who the agency asserted needed protective custody. The appellate court held that despite the lower court violating mother’s statutory right to counsel, suppressing her perjured statements made when she had no legal representation was not a proper remedy. 

MEDICAL PROXY

In re L.A.B., 2015 WL 9478211 (Mo. Ct. App.). Juvenile court improperly abdicated its responsibility by declining to designate person to make end-of-life medical decisions for infant in child welfare agency custody and directing agency to designate such person. Parens patriae relationship existed between child and juvenile court. Appeal was not rendered moot by death of child because agency presented evidence of similar cases, and court ruled issue is of public importance and likely to recur.

 

 

 

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS

ABANDONMENT

In re G.T.M., 360 S.W.3d 318 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012). In case where father’s paternity was confirmed a month before the termination petition was filed, trial court erred in terminating father’s rights on abandonment ground because neither intent to abandon or six month duration required by statute were satisfied. Father made it known he intended to assume custody when released from prison, arranged for his family to assume custody in the meantime, and complied with all agency requests except for completing services in prison.

In re H.D.J.K., 336 S.W.3d 516 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). Trial court properly terminated mother’s parental rights where mother claimed there was insufficient evidence to find she abandoned child, because trial court also found she willfully and continuously neglected child; grounds to terminate are independent and mother made no argument as to second ground on appeal.

In re H.N.S., 342 S.W.3d 344 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). There was no abuse of discretion in termination of father’s rights where grounds were established that father willfully abandoned child; though child would likely have continued contact with the mother but not the father because her parents were the adoptive resource, the child’s interests in stability and permanence were at issue in best interests portion of trial, not fairness to father.

AGGRAVATED CIRCUMSTANCES

Juvenile Officer v. A.S.M., 423 S.W.3d 824 (Mo. Ct. App. 2014). Based upon aggravated circumstances of sexual abuse, the agency did not need to provide reasonable efforts to reunify mother with her children and trial court properly terminated mother’s parental rights. Evidence showed mother subjected her children to severe sexual abuse by stepfather. Mother was aware of stepfather’s sexually abusive behavior of his children. She knew the eldest daughter gave birth to stepfather’s child. She had also cautioned children to say nothing sexual occurred between them and the stepfather. 

BEST INTERESTS

In re I.R.S., 445 S.W.3d 616 (Mo. Ct. App. 2014). Court properly determined it was in best interests of children to terminate mother’s parental rights. Children had been in care for about three years, mother lacked a relationship and bond with children, and children became emotionally upset after visits with mother. Children were brought to agency’s attention due to domestic violence and mother’s mental instability, where she would often be hysterical and erratic whenever she had a conflict with father.

 

 

BURDEN OF PROOF

In re B.H., 348 S.W.3d 770 (Mo. 2011). Trial court properly found grounds for termination on a clear and convincing standard and made best interests determination to terminate on a preponderance of the evidence standard. The best interests stage, which follows a grounds determination, is not designed to protect the due process rights of a parent and thus need not be subject to the higher standard.

EVIDENCE

In re M.A.M., 2016 WL 6520158 (Mo. Ct. App.). Evidence did not support trial court’s findings in proceeding to terminate mother’s parental rights to three children on ground of failure to rectify conditions that led to their dependency. Mother’s move across state border was not designed to thwart child welfare agency’s efforts to investigate condition of her home, as mother did not want children to live there with her. Evidence indicated mother lived in trailer, helped pay bills, and was saving to rent better home for children. 

 

FAILURE TO IMPROVE

In re J.A.R., 426 S.W.3d 624 (Mo. Ct. App. 2014). Trial court properly terminated father’s parental rights. The children were brought to the agency’s attention based on mother’s intoxication and failure to supervise the children while they were in her custody. A reunification plan was created for the father and his children; however, he made little progress in completing the plan and inconsistently contacted children, which caused children to distrust and resist reunifying with him. 

 

In re K.M.W., 342 S.W.3d 353 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). Father’s failure to correct conditions that led to child’s placement under juvenile court jurisdiction supported termination of his parental rights; during his incarceration, father did not give caseworker his family’s contact information for over a year and did not ask his family members to provide financial support for child, he sent no cards or letters for over a year and did not made no consistent attempts to  contact child, and demonstrated an inability to place child’s needs over his by stating that child could wait until his release from prison for him to regain ability to support himself and child.

In re X.D.G., 341 S.W.3d 755 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). Termination order was not based on clear and convincing evidence that father continued to be a danger to his son where he had complied with treatment and his counselor recommended reunification; though father had never admitted to causing or knowing who caused physical abuse, testimony showed he had gained insight into ensuring safety of his child and other skills through services.

FAILURE TO PROTECT

In re J.S., 2015 WL 9310277 (Mo. Ct. App.). Preponderance of evidence supported termination of mother’s parental rights as in children’s best interest. Children had not been in contact with mother or been in her care for almost three years, resulting in weak emotional attachment, and mother’s failure to acknowledge her role in failing to protect children from sexual abuse made reunification extremely unlikely.

 

FATHERS

In re A.R., 330 S.W.3d 858 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). Trial court properly exercised its discretion when it denied father, the nonoffending parent in dependency proceedings, custody of his child and granted custody to child welfare agency for placement with his grandmother based on evidence of his drug use history; although statute creates preference that child be placed with nonoffending parent, certain conditions must be met under statute.

IMMIGRANTS

In re C.M.B.R., 332 S.W.3d 793 (Mo. 2011). Trial court should not have entered judgment on adoption petition and terminated immigrant mother’s parental rights without first ordering an investigation and reports to determine if termination was in child’s best interests and assess suitability of adoptive parents. Reversal and remand were required to allow the investigation to be conducted and reports to be submitted so the trial court would have full information before making a determination.

In re C.M., 414 S.W.3d 622 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013). Mother was not denied right to a fair trial when the court considered her undocumented immigration status. While immigration status alone could not justify termination, the court properly found mother’s status posed a concrete risk since mother planned to illegally return to the U.S. with the child if reunified, despite the multiple times she had been arrested.

 

INCARCERATION

In re J.P.B., 2017 WL 65455 (Mo.). In termination of parental rights proceeding, trial court’s finding of father’s unfitness to parent based on his incarceration did not render statute unconstitutionally vague. Although second statutory provision provided incarceration alone could not be grounds for termination, it applied only other subsections. Child had been in care for over one year, father was unable to care for child and would be incarcerated for at least 33 more months until child was five years old. Father had never met child and had no parent-child bond.

In re M.J.H., 398 S.W.3d 550 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013). Though incarceration alone cannot support termination of parental rights, trial court properly terminated father’s rights given additional evidence showing he had done nothing to support the children before incarceration, participated in further criminal acts after the children were removed, and though he had requested and a home study was approved on his relative, she did not follow through with visitation to obtain custody.

In re P.J., 403 S.W.3d 672 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012). Where mother had resolved the reasons that led to the child’s removal by completing her incarceration term and ceasing drug use and production, termination was inappropriate. Mother could parent safely in the near future with the assistance of a family member. Statute did not require a parent to assume all responsibilities of parenting alone. Full summary

MENTAL HEALTH

 

In re K.D.P., 375 S.W.3d 112 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012). Trial court did not improperly terminate mother’s parental rights solely due to disability where testimony showed she had been provided numerous services for years and continued at time of trial to have untreated mental health needs because she had failed to fully participate in the services. Record showed she lacked commitment to remedy the situation, including her own testimony that she could not afford the $4 a month for bus tickets to get to therapy but paid $80 a month for illegal drugs. She also failed to engage in treatment.

ORDERS

In re S.M.F., 393 S.W.3d 635 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013). Trial court order properly indicated factual findings that supported the termination grounds. Order contained detailed and lengthy judicial findings about mother’s failure to successfully engage in mental health treatment for bipolar disorder and provided clear reasons why she still was unable to provide a safe home.

 

 


PUTATIVE FATHERS

In re A.R.T., 2016 WL 2935871 (Mo. Ct. App.). Putative father appealed termination of his parental rights to daughter. Father met definition of “parent” under termination statute and thus trial court had authority to terminate his rights to child. Although he was not the child’s biological parent, putative father signed acknowledgment of paternity, was named as father on child’s birth certificate, and testified he viewed himself as child’s father.

REPRESENTATION

In re C.F., 340 S.W.3d 296 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). Trial court should have appointed counsel for father in termination proceeding, even though his request occurred more than 30 days after adjudication and disposition hearing; father met statutory criteria for appointment and he qualified as children’s custodian since he was the biological parent.

In re G.M.G., 2017 WL 3387980 (Mo. Ct. App.). Indigent mother was not entitled to court-appointed counsel in underlying neglect proceeding before her parental rights termination proceeding, for which she had representation. She was unrepresented only after she knowingly and voluntarily waived her right to counsel or trial court made express finding that appointing counsel was not necessary for “full and fair hearing.” 

 

SEXUAL ABUSE

In re E.G.G., 2016 WL 364265 (Mo. Ct. App.). Evidence was sufficient to support finding of significant likelihood of future harm to children if father’s parental rights were not terminated. Father was incarcerated for sexually abusing his daughters. Both children exhibited acting-out behaviors and had sleep issues. One child asked to have her last name changed to avoid embarrassment. Father was prohibited from any contact with children, and testimony established that children would be relieved if they knew father was permanently out of their lives.