IN RE THE MATTER OF: A.J.C., A Minor Child.
LAURA SCHAEFER, Petitioner and Appellee. DENNIS RAMSEY CROMWELL, Petitioner and Appellant,
Submitted on Briefs: June 6, 2018
District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, In and For
the County of Sanders, Cause No. DR 14-71 Honorable James A.
Manley, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Tracy Labin Rhodes, Attorney at Law, Missoula,
Appellee: Jean Adele Carter, Attorney at Law, Thompson Falls,
Appellant Dennis Cromwell, the natural father of A.J.C.
(Father), appeals the July 20, 2016 Findings, Conclusions and
Parenting Plan ordered by the Twentieth Judicial District
Court, Sanders County. In a separate but related matter,
Father has also appealed the District Court's September
26, 2017 Order Denying Department's Motion to Amend the
Permanency Plan and Order of Dismissal.
We restate the issue on appeal as follows:
Did the District Court err by allowing a child's
grandmother to pursue a parental interest under Title 40
while a dependent neglect case was pending under Title
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On September 22, 2014, the Department of Health and Human
Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department)
filed a Petition for Emergency Protective Services (EPS) and
Temporary Investigative Authority (TIA) in a dependent
neglect (DN) matter, designated as DN 14-06 in the District
Court. At the time, A.J.C. was eleven years old and was in
the legal custody of his mother (Mother), who frequently left
him in the care of his grandmother, Appellee Laura Schaefer
(Grandmother). Up to that time, Father, who resided in
Oregon, had not participated in parenting A.J.C. to any
significant degree, nor had he provided consistent and
substantial financial support.
After the Department became formally involved with Mother,
Father acted to gain custody of A.J.C. On October 14, 2014,
at the Department's direction, Father, naming Mother as
Respondent, petitioned the District Court for a parenting
plan designating him as A.J.C.'s primary residential
parent. This petition, DR 14-71, is the cause underlying this
On November 3, 2014, the District Court granted EPS and TIA
in DN 14-06. On November 17, 2014, the District Court entered
default against Mother in DR 14-71 because she had failed to
appear. On February 20, 2015, Mother appeared in DR 14-71 via
counsel and moved to set aside default. Ultimately, Father
and Mother stipulated to an interim parenting plan which had
A.J.C. residing with Grandmother during the school year and
visiting Father for six weeks during the summer of 2015. The
District Court set aside Mother's default and approved
the stipulated parenting plan on March 24, 2015, subject to
any occurrences in DN 14-06.
On August 13, 2015, Father moved to amend the interim
parenting plan, alleging that Mother had not complied with
the treatment plan approved by the District Court in DN
14-06. Father asserted that he had agreed to the parenting
plan because Mother was in a residential chemical dependency
treatment program and he believed placement with Grandmother
was appropriate at the time. Father alleged that in the
intervening months, Mother had left the residential program
and events had occurred which caused him to conclude
Grandmother was not an appropriate placement for A.J.C.,
including Mother being arrested at Grandmother's home,
Grandmother allowing a convicted felon to stay at the home
while A.J.C. was present, and A.J.C. arriving for his summer
visit with Father lacking appropriate clothing and in need of
eyeglasses and dental care. Father also alleged that A.J.C.
had done well in Oregon and had made friends. Father proposed
that A.J.C. reside with him during the school year and visit
Mother at Grandmother's home for six weeks each summer.
On September 2, 2015, Grandmother filed a Petition to
Establish a Parental Interest as a separate action, which the
District Court designated DR 15-37. Grandmother alleged that
Mother was not complying with her treatment plan and that
Father had abandoned A.J.C. Grandmother argued that she met
the criteria for a third-party interest in A.J.C. ...