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COA reverses and remands CHINS finding regarding stepfather

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After the juvenile court adjudicated two minor children as children in need of services following their mother’s admission to allegations filed by the Indiana Department of Child Services, the majority of a Court of Appeals panel today reversed and remanded that finding in favor of the stepfather, who denied the allegations and asked for a fact-finding hearing. One Court of Appeals judge dissented, writing that she disagreed that the trial court violated the stepfather’s right to due process in this case.

In K.D., et al. Alleged to be C.H.I.N.S.; S.S. v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, et al., No. 49A02-1004-JC-462, stepfather S.S. in 2005 married the mother of K.D., a girl born June 19, 1992, and K.S., a boy born April 1, 1995.

S.S. was convicted of child molesting and criminal confinement in 1995, served a term of incarceration, but did not complete sex-offender treatment, according to allegations in the record.

As part of an informal adjustment with the stepfather and mother after DCS conducted a preliminary inquiry, both agreed to provide an appropriate home for the children and to attend counseling. S.S. also agreed to complete a sex-offender treatment program, but failed to comply with the requirements of that program.

DCS subsequently claimed that coercive intervention was necessary because the stepfather did not comply with the treatment and because the mother allowed him to continue to live in the home with the children.

Mother and stepfather were represented by separate counsel when the court convened a hearing on the petition. The mother admitted to the allegations, and the stepfather denied them. He then asked for a fact-finding hearing.

However, at the beginning of the subsequent hearing, the court stated that because the mother already admitted to the allegations, the court would treat the hearing as a contested dispositional hearing to determine what services might be ordered regarding the stepfather.

The stepfather objected and argued the mother’s admission was not enough to sustain the CHINS determination. DCS joined the father in the objection and said he was entitled to a fact-finding hearing if he wanted to request one. The juvenile court overruled the objection.

The juvenile court ordered that K.D. and K.S. were to be removed from stepfather’s care. It also ordered stepfather to complete sex-offender treatment and home-based counseling. The stepfather was also ordered to remain out of the home until his counselors recommended that he return.

“The question in this case is: what procedure must the juvenile court follow when one parent, guardian, or custodian admits to the CHINS allegations but another denies the allegations and requests a factfinding hearing?” wrote Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Vaidik.

“In attempting to harmonize the statutes at issue, we can identify no reason why the admission of one parent, guardian, or custodian in a CHINS proceeding should abridge the statutory procedural due process rights of another,” she continued. “The CHINS adjudication may have consequences for any parent, guardian, or custodian involved, such as separation from the child or required participation in a program of care, treatment, or rehabilitation, so any such party should be afforded an opportunity to be heard and to controvert DCS’s claims, even when another party has elected to admit the allegations.”

Judge Vaidik also referred to the Indiana Supreme Court’s recent decision, In re N.E., 919  N.E.2d 102 (Ind. 2010), reported in the Jan. 6, 2010, IL daily. In that case, the mother admitted to allegations that N.E. and her half-siblings who lived with her were CHINS, but N.E.’s father, who did not live with N.E. but had at one time, did not agree with the allegations N.E. was a CHINS.

While the Court of Appeals agreed that a “split analysis” was warranted in that case, the Supreme Court disagreed.

Judge Vaidik wrote that the principles in N.E. do not affect today’s opinion because the stepfather was claiming that the children were not CHINS, not that the children were not CHINS in relation to him.

“In short, N.E. is a 'sufficiency' case addressing the type of proof required to support a CHINS determination. This case, on the other hand, concerns when and by whom that proof may be disputed,” she wrote, and concluded the stepfather was denied due process.

Judge Melissa S. May dissented with the majority. She wrote that she did not believe the father was denied his right to due process.

“I agree with the majority that the trial court erred by denying Stepfather the hearing provided by statute, but I am not convinced the error was reversible under the facts of this case,” she wrote.

She continued that DCS’s report included information regarding stepfather’s sex-offender status, and that he did not comply with the sex-offender treatment ordered as part of his criminal sentence.

“It is not apparent what evidence Stepfather could have presented that would have led this trial court to find there was not proof by a preponderance of the evidence that these children were CHINS,” she wrote. “The paperwork DCS filed with its request that the court approve the Informal Adjustment made the court aware Stepfather had been convicted of child molesting and had not completed the sex offender treatment ordered as part of his sentence.”



 

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  1. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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