Res judicata clarification allows CHINS finding to stand

In granting a petition on rehearing, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed its earlier ruling and allowed the Department of Child Services to move forward with a new child in need of services petition even though the filing relied on allegations made in a previous CHINS petition that had been overturned.

DCS had filed a CHINS petition in 2017 for a baby born to a mother who already had her daughter removed from her care because of allegations of neglect. In March 2018, the Marion Superior Court denied the 2017 CHINS petition, but DCS kept the child in foster care and less than a week later was able to convince the juvenile court to authorize the filing of a second CHINS petition.

The mother then moved to dismiss the 2018 CHINS on the grounds of res judicata. She argued all the alleged matters in the new petition had been litigated and decided in the failed 2017 CHINS. However, the juvenile court denied the mother’s motion and, after fact-finding hearings, granted the 2018 CHINS petition.

Before the Court of Appeals, mother reiterated her res judicata argument. DCS countered that res judicata did not bar the 2018 CHINS because issues in the new petition had not been previously litigated.

The appellate panel was unpersuaded by the arguments from DCS. It ruled the juvenile court erred by failing to dismiss those claims DCS made in the 2018 petition that had been or court have been litigated in the 2017 CHINS petition.

Petitioning for rehearing, DCS pointed to the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling on a similar situation in Matter of Eq.W., 124 N.E.3d 1201 (Ind. 2019). There the justices held res judicata does not prevent DCS from filing a subsequent CHINS petition as long as the state agency raises some new allegations and the evidence of the parent’s prior actions are used to support the new petition.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals granted rehearing and affirmed the juvenile court in all respects in In the Matter of R.L. (Minor Child) and J.R. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services and Child Advocates, Inc., 18-JC-2927.

“…Eq. W. has now clarified that DCS may rely on evidence of a parent’s prior conduct in bringing a subsequent CHINS, and, therefore, contrary to this court’s decision, the trial court must be able to rely on that evidence in rendering its determination,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the court.

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