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Court of Appeals dismisses termination-order appeal

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Because the parents of six children who were removed from their home did not timely initiate the appeal of termination of their parental rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed their appeal.

Father F.L. and mother C.B. appealed the trial court orders terminating their parental rights. The five youngest children were placed in foster care because of domestic violence and drug use; the oldest child was already out of the home in a residential placement due to a delinquency case. All the children were adjudicated as children in need of services.

On Aug. 20, 2010, the trial court terminated their parental rights to the five youngest children; on Aug. 23, the court terminated their parental rights to the oldest child. On Aug. 30, C.B. filed a notice of intent to appeal and request for appointment of counsel with the trial court; the father filed an identical notice the next day. The same appellate counsel was appointed to represent the parents. On Sept. 23, their appellate attorney filed a notice of appeal, requesting assembly of the clerk’s record and preparation of the transcript.

The parents filed a motion for permission to file belated notice of appeal with the trial court on Jan. 18, 2011. The trial court entered an order finding it had no authority to grant such relief in a civil matter, and filed with the COA a Notice to Court of Appeals of Untimely Notice of Appeal.

In Term. of Parent-Child Rel. of D.L., et al.; F.L. and C.B. v. I.D.C.S., No. 20A05-1009-JT-635, the appellate court found the parents’ appeal to be untimely. The judges rejected the parents’ argument that their notice of intent to appeal is “functionally equivalent” to the required notice of appeal. The notices of intent filed in August didn’t fulfill the requirements of a notice of appeal as described in Indiana Appellate Rule 9, wrote Chief Judge Margret Robb.

The parents also claimed that the notice of appeal is similar to the Indiana Tort Claims Act’s notice of tort claim requirements. But compliance with the notice requirements of the Tort Claims Act is a procedural precedent; the notice of appeal is jurisdictional, the judge wrote.

“Moreover, even if we were inclined to agree that the two should be treated similarly, the Notices of Intent to Appeal filed by Parents in this case do not fulfill the purpose of the notice of appeal requirement – to serve as a mechanism to alert the trial court and the parties of the initiation of an appeal and to trigger action by the trial court clerk and court reporter, setting in motion the filing deadlines imposed by the Appellate Rules,” she wrote.

The judges then reviewed the record because of the constitutional dimensions of the case and found no clear error in the trial court’s decision.

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