ILNews

COA reverses termination of father's rights

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court order terminating the parental rights of a father, finding the trial court erred when it relied on an independent investigation to end his rights without giving the father a chance to view or respond to the investigation.

In In Re: The Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of S.F. and J.F., Michael Farley v. Allen County Child Services, No. 02A03-0707-JV-306, the appellate court was asked to decide whether Farley was denied due process when he was not allowed to respond to an independent investigation ordered by the trial court.

In July 2006, the Allen County Department of Child Services filed a petition to terminate Farley's parental rights of S.F. and J.F. because he had allegedly failed to maintain suitable living conditions. A trial was conducted in December 2006 on the matter; in February 2007, the trial court ordered an additional investigation of Farley's home by the Allen County Health Department. The court terminated Farley's parental rights in April 2007, citing the health department's report and how it reaffirmed that Farley's home is unsanitary.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court order, finding Farley's due process rights were denied by the use of the health department's report in terminating his rights. After the trial court received the report, it didn't conduct further proceedings and Farley wasn't able to cross-examine the inspector or offer his own evidence to contradict the report.

A parent must be able to view evidence used to terminate his or her parental rights and given the opportunity to respond, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. The trial court's off-the-record investigation and failure to give Farley the opportunity to respond created a high risk of error.

Even though DCS argued Farley didn't object to the order or file a motion to correct error, it was a fundamental error by the court and he did not waive his right to appeal this issue. Also, there was evidence the house was unsuitable for children when they were found to be CHINS; however, there was also evidence that Farley was slowly improving the home. If there was convincing evidence that the condition of Farley's home which led to the removal of the children had not been remedied, then the additional investigation ordered by the trial court wouldn't have been necessary, wrote Judge Barnes.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court order and remanded with instructions for the trial court to conduct another trial.
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  1. I was wondering about the 6 million put aside for common attorney fees?does that mean that if you are a plaintiff your attorney fees will be partially covered?

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  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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