Adjudicating on different CHINS petition allowed under Trial Rule 15(B), COA rules

A troubled teenager found to be a child in need of services was properly adjudicated even though the juvenile court ruled the state did not meet its burden in proving the basis of its CHINS petition.

The juvenile, M.O., was 16 and had a two-year-old son when the Indiana Department of Child Services filed the CHINS petition. M.O. had been living in the Carmelite Home in East Chicago as part of her probation for juvenile delinquency but with her sentence ending, she was going to lose her ability to stay in the facility.

Her father, worried about her aggression towards others, did not want her placed in his home. Her mother did not qualify for placement because she refused to take a drug test.

DCS filed a CHINS petition pursuant to Indiana Code 31-34-1-1, which involves parental inaction or neglect. However, M.O.’s parents asserted their child was a CHINS pursuant to Indiana Code 31-34-1-6, which involves the child’s own behaviors endangering herself or others.

After the Marion Superior Court found DCS did not meet its burden on its CHINS claim, the parents were allows to present evidence on their CHINS petition. The juvenile court agreed M.O. was a CHINS pursuant to Section 6.

Both M.O. and DCS appealed, arguing the court erred in adjudicating CHINS for different reasons than those included in the petition filed by the state agency.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in In the Matter of M.O., A Child in Need of Services, M.O., Child v. Indiana Department of Child Services, N.M., Mother, and Mi.O., Father, and Child Advocates, Inc., 49A05-1607-JC-1668.

In particular, the appellate court turned to Indiana Trial Rule 15(B), which allows an issue that has not been set out in the pleadings to be tried by the express or implied consent of the parties. The unanimous panel noted DCS and the child knew the parents had filed their own CHINS petition and neither objected to the pursuit of a CHINS 6 adjudication.

“The purpose behind Trial Rule 15(B) is to provide the parties with some flexibility in litigating a case, and to promote justice by permitting evidence brought in at trial to determine the liability of the parties,” Judge James Kirsch wrote. “…The evidence presented in the present case clearly indicates an issue regarding Child’s actions that substantially endangered Child’s health or the health of another was raised. This issue was therefore tried by consent under Trial Rule 15(B), and the juvenile court did not err in adjudicating CHILD as a CHINS on grounds different than those set forth in the CHINS petition.”

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