The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed two CHINS petitions when it ruled fact-finding hearings must be completed within 120 days of filing, regardless of any act or agreements of the parties involved.
In August 2017, DCS filed petitions alleging C.Y.’s two children, M.M. and T.T., were in need of services after C.Y. was arrested following a domestic disturbance involving M.M.’s father.
The juvenile court began a fact-finding hearing in October 2017 but continued the hearing to November 2017 after both parties consented to an additional 60 days for completion. On the day of the November fact-finding hearing, DCS requested the hearing be continued, which the Tippecanoe Superior Court granted and rescheduled to January 2018.
C.Y. moved to dismiss the proceedings during the January 2018 hearing, arguing that the fact-finding hearing had not been completed within the statutorily mandated time after the filing of the CHINS petitions. Her motion was denied, and the juvenile court found M.M. to be a CHINS, dismissing T.T.’s case.
On appeal, C.Y. contended the juvenile court erred in denying her motion to dismiss pursuant to Indiana Code section 31-34-11-1. The appellate court agreed and reversed the CHINS petition without prejudice in In the Matter of: T.T. and M.M., Children in Need of Services: C.Y. (Mother) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 18A-JC-1216.
In its decision, the appellate court noted that in a recent conclusion regarding the statute, it found that “if we were to allow the deadline to be ignored here, trial courts could habitually set these matters outside the time frame and there would be no consequence whatsoever.”
The appellate court rejected DCS’s argument that dismissal was not necessary because it did not believe that Indiana Code section 31-34-11-1 created “a hard and fast deadline.” It noted that both parties agreed that the 120-day deadline for concluding the fact-finding hearing was December 2017.
“… (W)hile subsection (a) provides that the parties may waive the initial 60-day deadline by agreeing to a continuance, subsection (b) does not include any such provision,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the court. “This lack of allowance for an additional extension of time indicates that the General Assembly intends to require that a fact-finding hearing must be completed within 120 days of the filing of a CHINS petition regardless of any act or agreements of the parties.”
The appellate court continued that “to allow the parties to agree to dates beyond the maximum 120-day limit would thwart the legislative purpose of timely rehabilitation and reunification of families that are subject to CHINS proceedings.” Thus, the case was remanded with instructions to dismiss the CHINS petitions without prejudice.