IN THE MATTER OF: C.A.T., A Youth in Need of Care.
Submitted on Briefs: September 27, 2017
FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In
and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DN 17-001(D)
Honorable Dan Wilson, Presiding Judge.
Appellant: Meri Althauser, Montana Legal Justice, PLLC,
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy A.
Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Ed
Corrigan, Flathead County Attorney, Anne Lawrence, Deputy
County Attorney, Kalispell, Montana
Jeremiah Shea Justice.
Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court
Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum
opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as
precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition
shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of
noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and
D.T. ("Father") appeals the findings of fact,
conclusions of law, and order of the Eleventh Judicial
District Court, Flathead County, terminating his parental
rights to his eight-year-old daughter, C.A.T. We address
whether the District Court abused its discretion in
terminating Father's parental rights. We affirm.
Father has a criminal history dating back decades and has
been convicted of eight felonies, including theft, burglary,
and drug possession. While Father was on parole for a felony
conviction out of Lewis and Clark County in 2009, C.A.T. was
born. The record is unclear as to when C.A.T.'s birth
mother ended her involvement in C.A.T.'s life, but Father
parented C.A.T. until 2010, when he surrendered to his parole
officer and was admitted to an in-patient drug treatment
program for nine months.
Following the treatment program, Father was transferred to
the Butte Prerelease Center for an additional six months.
While there, Father would pick up C.A.T. and spend time with
her every day. After Father was released in 2012, he regained
physical custody of C.A.T. and married B.T.
("Stepmother"). On August 2, 2013, Father was
charged with one count of felony burglary in Flathead County.
At the time charges were filed, Father, Stepmother, and
C.A.T. were living in Tennessee. After being extradited to
Montana, Father pled guilty to felony burglary on October 10,
2014. He was originally sentenced to twenty years in Montana
State Prison; however, the Sentence Review Division amended
the sentence to twenty years with twelve years suspended.
In April 2014, the Tennessee Department of Children's
Services took over care of C.A.T. due to Father's
incarceration and her birth mother's unknown whereabouts.
On August 18, 2015, a Tennessee court awarded Stepmother full
legal and physical custody of C.A.T., and sometime thereafter
the two relocated to Montana. Since then, C.A.T. has had no
more direct contact with Father.
On August 10, 2016, Stepmother contacted the Montana
Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS), indicating
that she wanted to give up custody of C.A.T. because she
could no longer care for her. C.A.T. was placed in foster
care, and DPHHS implemented a protective services plan.
Though initially involved, Stepmother eventually disengaged
with DPHHS. DPHHS did not inform Father that C.A.T. was
placed in foster care. Father learned this fact from
Stepmother's grandmother, after which he contacted DPHHS.
On January 4, 2017, the Flathead County attorney, on behalf
of DPHHS, petitioned for emergency protective services and
termination of any legal parent-child relationship between
C.A.T. and her birth mother, Stepmother, and Father. DPHHS
alleged that C.A.T.'s birth mother, Stepmother, and
Father abandoned C.A.T., therefore, DPHHS should not have to
provide reunification services, and all parental rights
should be terminated.
At the January 20, 2017 pre-hearing conference, Father was
not present but was represented by counsel. At DPHHS's
request, the District Court postponed the matter to give
DPHHS time to serve Stepmother and C.A.T.'s birth mother
by publication. The District Court held a hearing on the
petition on February 24, 2017, during which DPHHS Child
Protection Specialist Supervisor (CPSS) Melissa Cichosz
("Cichosz") and Father testified.
On March 3, 2017, the District Court issued an order
determining that C.A.T. was abandoned and, due to this
abandonment, C.A.T. was a youth in need of care (YINC). The
District Court terminated the parental rights of C.A.T.'s
birth mother, Stepmother, and Father and granted ...