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In re M.B.

Supreme Court of Montana

August 21, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: M.B., A Youth in Need of Care.

          Submitted on Briefs: July 25, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Nineteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Lincoln, Cause No. DN-14-24 Honorable Matthew J. Cuffe, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Julia D. Nordlinger, Best & Westover Law Office, Kalispell, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Bradley F. Custer, Assistant Attorney General, Kalispell, Montana Marcia Boris, Lincoln County Attorney, Libby, Montana

          OPINION

          BETH BAKER JUSTICE.

         ¶1 P.B. ("Father") appeals the District Court's order terminating his parental rights to his daughter, M.B. He argues that the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division ("Department"), violated his right to due process when it withheld discovery. He also argues that the District Court erred in determining that the Department met its burden under § 41-3-609(1)(f), MCA, to terminate Father's parental rights to M.B. We affirm.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Father and A.B. ("Mother") lived in Eureka with M.B. and Mother's older children. Father worked in Alaska, generally working two weeks at his job site and then returning home for two weeks. Mother cared for the children when Father was in Alaska. In December 2014, the Department requested emergency authority to investigate the children's well-being because Mother was leaving M.B. home with her siblings without appropriate care for significant periods while Father was away. The District Court granted temporary investigative authority in January 2015, and the children were placed in the care of family friends. In April 2015, the District Court adjudicated M.B. as a youth in need of care and granted the Department temporary custody on the basis that Mother was not providing care for M.B. and Father had been unable to care for M.B. or to make arrangements to provide for her care while he was away. After the hearing, M.B. remained in the care of the family friends, who agreed to foster her.

         ¶3 The District Court ordered treatment plans for Father in April 2015 and in October 2015. Father was represented by counsel when both treatment plans were ordered. Neither Father nor his attorney signed the April 2015 treatment plan. Father and his attorney signed the October 2015 treatment plan.

         ¶4 The Department filed a petition for permanent legal custody and termination of Father's parental rights in November 2016. After many continuances, the District Court held a termination hearing in November 2017. At the hearing, Father argued for the first time that his treatment plans were inappropriate. He also argued that the Department violated his due process rights because it withheld discovery. On that basis, he moved the District Court to dismiss the case or to continue the hearing to allow him to review the "evidence that is at play." The District Court denied Father's motion and later entered its written Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order Granting the Department Permanent Legal Custody With Right to Consent to Adoption and Terminating Parental Rights, as to Mother and Father. Father appeals.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶5 We review a district court's decision to terminate parental rights for an abuse of discretion. In re K.A., 2016 MT 27, ¶ 19, 382 Mont. 165, 365 P.3d 478. We review findings of fact for clear error and conclusions of law for correctness. In re A.H., 2015 MT 75, ¶ 25, 378 Mont. 351, 344 P.3d 403.

         ¶6 We review a district court's ruling on a discovery matter for an abuse of discretion. In re S.C., 2005 MT 241, ¶ 16, 328 Mont. 476, 121 P.3d 552. A district court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily, without employment of conscientious judgment, or in excess of ...


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