Justices affirm denied motion to dismiss in TPR dispute

A unanimous Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed the denial of a mother’s motion to dismiss her termination of parental rights petition after finding she wasn’t entitled to a dismissal under the circumstances.

The state petitioned to terminate mother B.C.’s parental rights to J.C. and R.C. in March 2018, after she was arrested on a warrant for failing to appear in court for drug-related convictions.

The evidentiary hearing on the termination petitions was completed on Nov. 26, 2018, more than 180 days after the petitions were filed. In January 2019, the Marion Superior Court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law terminating B.C.’s parental rights. She appealed, arguing, in part, that the juvenile court erred in denying her motion to dismiss when the evidentiary hearing was not completed within 180 days after filing of the petitions.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, noting, among other things, that to permit B.C., after having affirmatively waived the 180-day deadline, to seek dismissal based on the trial court’s failure to complete the hearing within 180 days would effectively allow her to “sandbag” the trial court and would allow a parent to take advantage of invited error.

A unanimous Indiana Supreme Court panel likewise affirmed in a Wednesday per curiam decision in In the Matter of J.C. and R.C. (Minor Children); B.C. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, and Child Advocates, Inc., 20S-JT-235.

Granting transfer to address solely the issue of whether the juvenile court erred in denying B.C.’s motion to dismiss when the evidentiary hearing was not completed within 180 days after filing of the petitions, the high court initially noted its disagreement with a portion of the appellate court’s decision.

“We disagree with the first part of the Court of Appeals’ analysis to the extent it suggests that because CHINS cases and TPR cases are governed by different statutes, appellate opinions decided under the CHINS statute are ipso facto inapplicable in deciding TPR cases, including issues related to deadlines for hearings. Given the statutes’ similarity, opinions decided under one statute should inform a court when applying the other, as the following analysis shows,” the per curiam opinion states.

The justices next found both In re J.R., 98 N.E.3d 652 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018), and In re T.T., 110 N.E.3d 441 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) to be easily distinguishable from B.C.’s case, noting that B.C. affirmatively waived the 180-day requirement and did not object until after the hearing was well under way.

“Moreover, in light of our opinion in In re M.S., 140 N.E.3d 279, 283-84 (Ind. 2020), J.R. and T.T. might be argued and resolved differently if decided today. In M.S., we held that despite the deadlines in the CHINS statute, Indiana Trial Rule 53.5 allows a court, for good cause shown, to continue a hearing beyond those deadlines. Neither J.R. nor T.T. examined whether good cause existed for continuing the hearing beyond the statutory deadline,” the justices wrote.

The high court likewise agreed with the appellate court’s conclusion that relief is not available to B.C., who justices found affirmatively waived the 180-day statutory timeframe and thus invited any alleged error.

“Mother acknowledges she ‘affirmatively waived the 180-day requirement[.]’ Having affirmatively waived that requirement and invited the court to conduct the hearing without regard to it, Mother cannot later successfully invoke it as a basis for reversal,” the high court wrote.

“Mother contends that ‘to allow the parties to agree to dates beyond the maximum 180-day limit would thwart the goals of timely permanency for children in the best possible environment, judicial economy, parents’ constitutional rights, and closure for all parties.’ Yet Mother presents this argument only after having invited any error,” the justices concluded.

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