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State ex rel. A.M.C.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

February 8, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF A.M.C.

         ON APPEAL FROM THE FORTIETH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 17, 68, DIVISION "A" HONORABLE MADELINE JASMINE, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA, DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES Jessica Coalter.

          COUNSEL FOR MINOR/APPELLEE, A.M.C. Rodney B. Hastings Josephine Vanderhorst.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, A.D.C. Fontella F. Baker.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE-2ND APPELLANT, M.R.C. Kevin L. Ambres.

          Panel composed of Marc E. Johnson, Robert M. Murphy, and Stephen J. Windhorst.

         AFFIRMED

         RMM

         MEJ

         SJW

          ROBERT M. MURPHY JUDGE.

         The district court rendered judgment in this case on the petition of the Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), terminating the parental rights of the mother, A.C., and the father, M.C., to the minor child A.M.C.[1] A.C. and M.C. appeal from that judgment. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         A.M.C. was born on March 16, 2014, and is the minor child of A.C. and M.C. On February 18, 2016, DCFS filed a petition to terminate A.C.'s and M.C.'s parental rights, alleging that they had abandoned A.M.C. and that their rights should be terminated under La. Ch.C. art. 1015(4) and/or (5).[2] The petition also asserted that it was in A.M.C's best interest to be freed for adoption.

         Following a hearing on June 23, 2016, the court found that DCFS had established grounds for termination under La. Ch.C. art. 1015(5). Specifically, the court noted that: 1) A.M.C. had been removed from her parents' custody for over one year; 2) there had not been substantial parental compliance, and; 3) there was no reasonable expectation that the parents' condition of a diminished capacity to understand how to properly care for A.M.C.'s special medical needs would improve in the near future. Additionally, the court found that being freed for adoption was in A.M.C.'s best interest considering that the prospective adoptive parent knew how to operate A.M.C.'s medical equipment and administer medication, and the prospective adoptive parent is related to one of A.M.C's parents and "would likely continue to foster a relationship between [A.M.C] and her biological parents." The court rendered judgment on August 26, 2016, terminating the parental rights of both parents. It is from this judgment that A.C. and M.C. appeal.

         In their first assignment of error, A.C. and M.C. argue that the trial court erred in finding that they had not substantially complied with the case plan. In their second assignment, it is argued that the trial court committed manifested error and/or abused its discretion in finding that termination of parental rights was in A.M.C.'s best interest. Conversely, DCFS argues that while A.C. and M.C. apparently made some effort toward the case plan goals, their efforts were not sufficient to improve their "situation." Furthermore, DCFS contends that the trial court did not err in finding that the termination of parental rights was in A.M.C.'s best interest.

         In its petition to terminate, DCFS asserted that after A.M.C. was taken into the State's custody on September 16, 2014, the court approved a case plan for services to return A.M.C. to her parents, but that neither parent had substantially complied with the case plan. With respect to A.C., the petition alleged the following:

1. The mother has failed to attend all court-approved scheduled visitations with the child.
2. The mother has failed to consistently keep the Department apprised of her whereabouts and significant changes affecting her ability to comply with the case plan for services.
3. The mother has failed to contribute to the court ordered costs of the child's care.
4. The mother has failed to complete and demonstrate significant measurable progress in all required programs of treatment and rehabilitation services.
5. The mother lacks substantial improvement in redressing the problems preventing reunification.
6. The conditions that led to the removal or similar potentially harmful conditions persist.
7. The mother has failed to establish housing safe and appropriate for herself and her child.
8. The mother has not provided the agency with an appropriate care plan.
9. The mother has not attended all FTC' s, court hearings, medical appointments and all other appointments ...

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