CHINS statutory deadline overridden by trial rule

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In a case of first impression, the Indiana Supreme Court found a trial rule trumped the CHINS statutory deadline after a mother was first granted a continuance, then moved to have the case dismissed because the court took longer than 120 days to complete the factfinding.

The mother, A.C., had her daughter, M.S., removed from her care in November 2017 over allegations of neglect following the death of another child. As part of the factfinding, the mother requested documents from the Danville Police Department related to the investigation into the death of her other child.

However, when the cops moved to quash the subpoena duces tecum, the mother requested a continuance to resolve the discovery dispute. The Hendricks Superior Court continued the hearing and ordered the limited discovery of documents after all the parties agreed to waive the statutory 120-day deadline for the factfinding to be concluded.

At a subsequent factfinding hearing held March 16, 2018, the mother submitted more than 2,000 video recordings into evidence. She was granted an additional seven days to identify the most relevant videos, but on April 10 she asked for an extension of time to continue reviewing the recordings.

The factfinding concluded April 17, 2018, but the final order adjudicating M.S. as a child in need of services was not issued until Oct. 8, 2018. At a dispositional hearing Oct. 31, 2018, the mother moved for dismissal, citing recent caselaw from the Indiana Court of Appeals about formal deadlines for CHINS actions.

When the trial court denied her motion, the mother appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the matter with instructions to dismiss the case without prejudice.

Then the Indiana Department of Child Services petitioned to transfer the case of In the Matter of M.S. (Minor Child in Need of Services; A.C. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 19S-JC-505. The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court pointed out that Indiana Code § 31-34-11-1, which provides the 120-day deadline for factfinding in CHINS cases, conflicts with Rule 53.5 of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure, which gives the court discretion to postpone or continue a trial for “good cause.”

Citing precedent from Garner v. Kempf, 93 N.E. 3d 1091, 1099 (Ind. 2018), State v. Bridenhager, 257 Ind. 699, 704, 279 N.E.2d 794-796 (1972) and Bowyer v. Ind. Dept. of Nat. Res., 798 N.E. 2d 912, 917 (Ind. 2003), the court held that when a statute is at odds with a court rule, the rule governs.

“Here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it granted Mother’s request for a continuance,” Justice Steven David wrote for the court. “Mother showed good cause when requesting additional time to resolve her discovery dispute with the Danville Police Department and sift through over 4,000 minutes of video evidence.

“Because Mother showed good cause, the trial court did not err in denying Mother’s motion to dismiss the action after the 12-day period expired,” David continued. “While we are mindful of the importance of the statutory deadline imposed by the General Assembly, the facts of this case justify the trial court’s action in continuing the case beyond the prescribed timeframe.”

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