CHINS case dismissed for untimely fact-finding hearing

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A child in need of services case has been dismissed after an appellate panel concluded that a mother’s motion to dismiss because the fact-finding hearing was not completed within the statutory time frame was incorrectly denied by the trial court.

When the Indiana Department of Child Services petitioned that A.C.’s then 6-year-old daughter was a child in need of services, DCS was reminded that the CHINS fact-finding hearing needed to be concluded within 120 days of filing the petition.

During that timeframe, both respective parties were granted a motion to continue the hearing. The fact-finding hearing was ultimately completed at the end of April 2018, although it was initially set to be completed by March 15.

A.C. asked the trial court to dismiss the CHINS case in October 2018 because the fact-finding hearing had not been held within 120 days of the filing of the CHINS petition. She cited Matter of T.T., 110 N.E.3d 441, 443 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018), which held that the statutory timeframe set forth in Indiana Code § 31-34-11-1 was a “certain deadline.” However, the trial court denied her motion.

The Indiana Court of Appeals took issue with that denial, interpreting the statute to read that “a fact-finding hearing shall be completed within” the statutorily mandated timeframe, and failure to do so was “grounds for dismissal.”

It further rejected DCS’s argument that A.C. herself had requested a motion of continuance, noting its ruling in Matter of T.T. explained that the statute’s lack of allowance for an additional extension of time indicated that the Legislature intended to require that a fact-finding hearing “[had to] be completed within 120 days of the filing of a CHINS petition regardless of any act or agreements of the parties.” 

That ruling also held 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.”

“Here, as in Matter of T.T., we reverse the trial court’s denial of Mother’s motion to dismiss and remand to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the CHINS case without prejudice,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the unanimous panel. “In addition, if DCS refiles the petition, it will also have to submit new evidence regarding current conditions.”

The case is In the Matter of M.S.; A Child in Need of Services: A.C. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 18A-JC-2843.

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