IN THE MATTER OF L. H.

Annotate this Case

IN THE MATTER OF L. H.
2010 OK CIV APP 31
231 P.3d 783
Case Number: 107118
Decided: 03/05/2010
Mandate Issued: 04/02/2010
DIVISION I
THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA, DIVISION I

IN THE MATTER OF L. H.; N. W.; S. W.; S. W.; and S. C., Alleged Deprived Children,

CRYSTAL WHITE, Appellant,
ROBERT WHITE, Defendant,
v.
THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA, Appellee.

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF CUSTER COUNTY, OKLAHOMA

HONORABLE JACQUELINE DUNCAN, TRIAL JUDGE

REVERSED AND REMANDED

Ryan A. Meacham, RANDOLPH S. MEACHAM, P.C., Clinton, Oklahoma, for Appellant,
Gina R. Webb, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, Cheyenne, Oklahoma, for State of Oklahoma.

OPINION

Wm. C. Hetherington, Jr., Judge:

¶1 Crystal White (White) appeals a trial court order terminating her parental rights to her four minor children as result of a jury verdict filed of record April 16, 2008. We agree notice in this case was insufficient to proceed to trial in the absence of this appellant, and the case must be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

¶2 In her appeal,1 White alleges two propositions of error: first, the trial court did not make the requisite findings to terminate her parental rights, and second, the judgment ordering termination of White's parental rights is void for lack of jurisdiction due to defective service. Counsel representing the State filed an Entry of Appearance but then neither filed a Response to Petition in Error nor an Answer brief, and by virtue of an order of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, this case is submitted based upon Appellant's brief only.

¶3 Although reversal is never automatic when an appellee fails to file an answer brief, Hamid v. Sew Original, 1982 OK 46, 645 P.2d 496, this Court is under no duty to search the record for some theory to sustain the trial court judgment, and will ordinarily, where the brief in chief is reasonably supportive of the allegations of error, reverse the appealed judgment. Sneed v. Sneed, 1978 OK 138, 585 P.2d 1363.

¶4 White's second proposition is determinative of this appeal. While we do not agree that the failure to comply is jurisdictional, the statutory due process scheme in parental rights termination cases requires more than the initial notice of the petition to terminate parental rights by summons. 10 O.S.Supp. §7006-1.1

¶5 Prior to an actual hearing, "...notice of the hearing on the application and a copy of the application shall be served upon the parent or putative father who is the subject of the application in the same manner as summons is served in civil cases, not less than 15 calendar days prior to the hearing." 10 O.S.Supp. §7006-1.2.2

If the identity or whereabouts of a parent or putative father are unknown, the court must determine whether the parent or putative father can be identified or located. Following an inquiry pursuant to subsection B of this section, if the court finds that the identity or whereabouts of the parent or putative father cannot be ascertained, and this fact is attested to by affidavit of the other parent, legal guardian or custodian of the child, it shall order that notice be given by publication and, if the identity is known, that a copy be mailed to the last-known address of the parent or putative father.