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In re C.B.D.

Supreme Court of Montana

May 9, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: C.B.D. and P.M.P., Youths in Need of Care.

          Submitted on Briefs: March 15, 2017

         Appeal From District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DN 14-142 Honorable Mary Jane Knisely, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Meri Althauser, Montana Legal Justice, PLLC, Missoula, Montana.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Scott D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Billings, Montana

          OPINION

          James Jeremiah Shea Justice.

         ¶1 Birth mother, A.P. (Mother) appeals orders of the Thirteenth Judicial District, Yellowstone County, terminating her parental rights with respect to C.B.D. and P.M.P. We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

Whether Mother has standing to challenge the placement of P.M.P. after Mother's parental rights were terminated.

         ¶2 We affirm.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In December 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services (the Department) received a report that P.M.P., an Indian Child for purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), had tested positive for marijuana and Hydrocodone at birth. The Department took no action against Mother at that time. In August 2014, the Department was notified that Mother was using methamphetamine intravenously, leaving needles within reach of the children, and that 20-month-old P.M.P. was playing with a Taser. The Department attempted to contact Mother at this time, but was ultimately unsuccessful. On September 26, 2014, the Billings Police Department responded to a call from the children's father that Mother told him she had strangled P.M.P. and killed her. When the police located Mother, they discovered that P.M.P. was, in fact, alive and had been in the care of Mother's cousin for several weeks. The children's father suggested that Mother had hallucinated the events as a result of her methamphetamine use. P.M.P. was immediately placed into emergency protective care with maternal relatives, in compliance with ICWA.

         ¶4 From September 2014 until April 2016, the Department attempted, unsuccessfully, to work with Mother to overcome her substance abuse issues in order to regain custody of her children. On April 4, 2016, the Department filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights. On June 21, 2016, the District Court held a hearing on the petition. The Department's ICWA expert testified that for the past two years, P.M.P. had been in the home of R.W. and J.A., neighbors of Mother's relatives. The ICWA expert also testified that this placement was not in compliance with ICWA. On August 30, 2016, the District Court issued its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order Terminating Parental Rights. Mother timely appealed this order only as it pertains to P.M.P.'s placement, not the termination of her parental rights.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶5 Questions of justiciability, such as standing, are questions of law which we review de novo. Heffernan v. Missoula City Council, 2011 MT 91, ¶ 28, 360 Mont. 207, 255 P.3d 80. We determine whether a party has standing "as ...


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