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In re S.T.

Supreme Court of Montana

February 27, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: S.T., A Youth in Need of Care.

          Submitted on Briefs: January 24, 2018

         District Court of the Ninth Judicial District, In and For the County of Toole, Cause No. DN 13-002 Honorable Robert G. Olson, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Susan Callaghan, Callaghan Law, PLLC, Butte, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy K Plubell, Assistant Merle Raph, Toole County Attorney, Shelby, Montana

          BETH BAKER, JUSTICE.

         ¶1 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 Montana Reports.

         ¶2 R.T. (Mother) appeals the Ninth Judicial District Court's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order terminating her parental rights to her child, S.T. We affirm.

         ¶3 The Department of Public Health and Human Services (Department) filed a petition for temporary investigative authority and protective services for S.T.-then approximately ten years old-on April 24, 2013, after it received a report that S.T.'s parents were using methamphetamine and that S.T. witnessed physical fights between them. The District Court granted the petition and placed S.T. in the custody of his maternal aunt. The court later adjudicated S.T. a youth in need of care and granted the Department temporary legal custody of S.T.

         ¶4 The Department developed a treatment plan for Mother, which obligated her to: "abstain from all drugs and alcohol"; attend chemical dependency treatment sessions as recommended by Misfits, LLC, a treatment and counseling center; submit to the Department's random drug testing; attend mental health counseling sessions once every two weeks; and participate in domestic violence counseling and a domestic violence support group, among other requirements. Mother did not object to the plan, and the District Court approved it in September 2013.

         ¶5 Mother reported using methamphetamine regularly until August 2013, once in late September 2013, and once in December 2013. She entered inpatient chemical dependency treatment in October 2013, but did not complete the program. With the assistance of Misfits, Mother entered a second treatment program, which she successfully completed. After her discharge, Mother attended eighteen of thirty-two scheduled appointments with Julie Messerly, a licensed addiction counselor at Misfits.

         ¶6 Mother met with a mental health counselor, Mary Meis, until November 2014, but then stopped when Meis retired. She successfully completed the domestic-violence related requirements of her treatment plan. Mother refused to submit to drug tests on various occasions in 2014 and early 2015, but later cooperated with this requirement.

         ¶7 The Department filed a petition for permanent legal custody and termination of parental rights with right to consent to adoption in May 2015. The Department alleged that Mother had failed to comply with the treatment plan and that her conduct was "unlikely to change within a reasonable time." The District Court held termination hearings on December 15 and 16, 2016, and on March 20, 2017.

         ¶8 The court heard testimony from numerous witnesses. Corin Fisch, a mental health counselor with Misfits, testified that she had diagnosed Mother with borderline personality disorder. Fisch stated that Mother was in "partial compliance" with the treatment plan's requirement that she receive mental health counseling, noting that she attended many, but not all, of her appointments. Fisch testified that Mother admitted to having recently used marijuana and a pain pill without a prescription. Mother testified to using marijuana "from time to time."

         ¶9 Dr. Thomas Krajacich, a clinical psychologist who evaluated S.T., diagnosed S.T. with cognitive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, psychotic disorder, anxiety disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. Dr. Krajacich testified that S.T. required "a stable, safe ...


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