For the second time in less than a week, Indiana trial courts and the Department of Child Services have been chastised for denying due process in termination of parental rights cases. This time, the matter involves a DCS case manager who had a sexual relationship with a case client among a host of troubling facts.
Reversing and remanding a case to Spencer Circuit Court, the Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday dealt with the latest in a string of cases in which DCS acknowledged a lack of due process. The COA concluded the case was marked by “egregious behavior” of DCS employees and “unusual and alarming circumstances.”
In the case In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of C.M.S.T., T.M., & M.M. (Children) and A.S. (Mother) and R.T. (Father); et al. v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 18A-JT-530, mother A.S. and father R.T. had their parental rights terminated. But on appeal, DCS conceded as it has in multiple recent cases that the parents’ due process rights had been violated.
DCS became involved in the instant case in March 2015, after a report that mother and father were involved in a domestic violence-related altercation and that mother used methamphetamine. Children T.M. and C.M.S.T were removed from their care, adjudicated children in need of services and placed in foster care. Mother and father were ordered to participate in services.
DCS’s “egregious behavior” began in October 2015, when former family case manager Marilyn Neal filed a false report saying that father “went to [C.M.S.T.’s] school, made a scene, and tried to take [C.M.S.T.],” according to the record. Neal was fired, another case manager briefly handled the matter, then was replaced by family case manager Megan Ginanni, who was also working with Father on a CHINS case for one of his other children.
“At some point during her time working on the case, FCM Ginanni and Father began exchanging Facebook messages, which became sexually explicit in nature. FCM Ginanni and Father also engaged in a sexual relationship. Father testified FCM Ginanni would give him advanced notice of drug screens and told him he did not need to continue engaging in certain services. Father testified FCM Ginanni told him he ‘would get reunified [with C.M.S.T.] and
she would live with me and she was gonna (sic) help me get [Father’s other child] as well,’” Judge Melissa May wrote.
DCS ultimately fired Ginanni due to her inappropriate relationship. During this time, Mother had been compliant with services until she self-reported meth use in September 2016, after which her children were again removed. Mother contacted DCS in December 2016 to ask for help finding an inpatient drug treatment facility.
The record also shows the trial court denied grandparental motions to intervene seeking to have the children placed with maternal grandparents, but there is no explanation in the record why their motion was denied. The same month as the grandparents’ motion was denied, termination of parental rights hearings began, and the court terminated mother and father’s parental rights five months later.
In June, though, facing this appeal, DCS conceded the parents’ due process rights had been violated in the termination process, but the Court of Appeals denied DCS’s motion to remand.
“We cannot agree that the egregious behavior of some of the DCS employees did not contribute to Mother’s and Father’s non-compliance with some services,” May wrote. “Father’s testimony that FCM Ginanni told him to discontinue services and seemingly accelerated the visitation and home placement schedule for C.M.S.T., while denying similar escalation of visitation to Mother is just one of many instances that lead us to believe the chaotic and unprofessional handling of this case violated Mother’s and Father’s due process rights. The State concedes this violation of due process.”
The COA appended to its decision an order of July 9 that it also appended to another termination of parental rights reversal last week. The order formally admonishes DCS “for its failure to afford litigants through this state the due process they are owed,” citing multiple cases.
“We join in those sentiments, especially considering the multiple due process and ethical violations present in this case,” May concluded.