Dept. of Health & Welfare v. John Doe (2017-32)Annotate this Case
The Idaho Supreme Court reversed the magistrate court in an expedited appeal regarding the termination of John Doe (2017-32)'s parental rights. John Doe is the father of minor children KB and AB (the “Children”). The Children entered the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s (“IDHW”) custody in December 2014 after the Twin Falls Police declared them to be in imminent danger. The Children were in their mother’s (“Mother”) care when the police arrested her for possession of a controlled substance. Law enforcement described the condition of Mother’s home at this time as “filthy, cluttered, and containing numerous safety hazards, including raw sewage being present in the basement.” An Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) case plan, filed January 2015, included number of enumerated tasks for both Doe and Mother to complete in order for them to reunite with the Children. The case plan sought to provide Doe and Mother a framework to address “stable housing, sanitary living conditions, the need to obtain controlled substance abuse treatment, to remain clean/sober, and [to] stay out of jail.” Mother relapsed within weeks of a December 2016 order and was arrested for felony possession, kicked out of Drug Court, and went to prison. IDHW sought to terminate Doe and Mother’s parental rights. Doe had not completed his required drug treatment regimen by a first trial, he became more actively involved in his treatment plan by the time of a second trial. Doe showed other encouraging signs between the first and second trial as well, including significant progress on his case plan. However, the magistrate court noted that, despite progress, Doe still had not completed his case plan nor reunified with his children in the intervening period between the first and second trial. The court issued a Memorandum Decision granting termination of Doe and Mother’s parental rights on October 2, 2017, and entered a corresponding judgment ten days later on October 12, 2017. Mother did not appeal, but Doe timely filed his notice of appeal. The Supreme Court found the magistrate court’s December 2016 order stating that termination was not in the Children’s best interest was irreconcilable with IDHW’s first official recommendation following that order that termination “remains” in the Children’s best interest. The magistrate court’s October 2017 decision following the second trial highlighted Doe’s failure to reunify with the Children as a substantial factor in his ultimate decision to terminate. The magistrate court’s procedural error in not entering judgment for Doe and dismissing the petition upon finding that termination was not in the Children’s best interest affected Doe’s fundamental rights in this case.