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State ex rel. I.H.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

May 17, 2017

STATE IN THE INTEREST I.H., M.H., I.H., M.H.

         APPEAL FROM THE THIRTY-THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ALLEN, NO. J-2015-028 HONORABLE JOEL G. DAVIS, DISTRICT JUDGE

          John E. Demoruelle Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: M. H. (mother)

          Nicholas Pizzolatto, Jr. Department of Children & Family Services COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana, Department of Children & Fam. Services

          Thomas L. Lorenzi, Southwest Louisiana Bar Foundation COUNSEL FOR APPELLEES: M. H. (child) I. T. (child)

          Chad B. Guidry Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: I. H. (father)

          I. H. (father) Elayn Hunt Correctional Center IN PROPER PERSON

          Court composed of Shannon J. Gremillion, John E. Conery, and David E. Chatelain [*] , Judges.

          SHANNON J. GREMILLION JUDGE

         I.H. (hereafter, "Father, " to avoid confusion), the father of four children, appeals the trial court's judgment terminating his parental rights and certifying his children free for adoption. Father's attorney has filed a brief requesting that he be permitted to withdraw from representing Father pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396 (1967), asserting that there are no non-frivolous issues for appeal. For the reasons that follow, we grant counsel's motion to withdraw and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         FACTS

         Father and M.H. (hereafter, "Mother, " to avoid confusion) are the parents of four children: I.H., age seven (I.H. the elder); M.H. (M.H. the elder), age five; I.H., age four (I.H. the younger); and M.H., age two (M.H. the younger).[1] All four children have either been diagnosed with or show signs of developmental delays. I.H. the elder and M.H. the elder first came into the State's custody in May 2012 and were adjudicated children in need of care on June 14, 2012. I.H. the younger came into the State's custody within five weeks of his birth and was adjudicated in need of care on July 3, 2013, when he was yet only three months old. Custody of the three children was returned to Mother and Father on July 24, 2014, after they had completed the requirements of their case plan, but the Department of Children & Family Service (the Department) maintained supervision thereafter for six months, which was extended an additional six months. M.H. the younger was born on March 18, 2015. On August 3, 2015, however, the court again ordered all four children into the State's custody.

         On March 16, 2016, the State filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Father and Mother. It alleged that neither parent has made significant strides toward completing their case plan requirements, except to the extent that Mother has regularly visited the children. Father is unable to even do that, as he is currently incarcerated on drug charges and is not eligible for release until July 28, 2019.

         The matter was heard on December 1, 2016. The vast majority of the testimony centered on Mother's progress-or, more specifically, her lack thereof- in completing her case plan. The parties stipulated to the admission of the report of Dr. Alfred Buxton, Ph.D., a psychologist who evaluated Mother at the request of the Department. Dr. Buxton opined that, because of mental disability, Mother is not competent to manage her own affairs and must rely upon others to assure her own welfare and to deal with the complexities of daily living. She can be relied upon only as a secondary caregiver to her children. He would only recommend the return of the children to Mother if the Department could ensure that there was a competent primary caregiver.

         Ms. Melinda Marcantel, Child Welfare Specialist II with the Department, testified that she had acted as the case manager for the children since November 2013. The only component of her case plan Mother completed was regularly visiting the children. Father's incarceration prevents him from completing any component of his case plan. Ms. Marcantel testified that both Mother and Father had proposed family members who could serve as suitable caregivers, but the ...


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