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In re A.B.

Supreme Court of Montana

April 16, 2019

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

          Submitted on Briefs: March 13, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DN 16-22B Honorable Rienne McElyea, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Marty Lambert, Gallatin County Attorney, Deborah Pratt, Deputy County Attorney, Bozeman, Montana

          For Appellant: Mark Taylor, self-represented, Bozeman, Montana

          OPINION

          Ingrid Gustafson 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 M.T. (Father) appeals from a May 3, 2018 order of the Eighteenth Judicial District Court terminating Father's parental rights to A.B. (Child). We affirm.

         ¶3 Child was born in 2004 and is the biological child of D.B. (Mother) and Father. On March 9, 2016, an ex-boyfriend murdered Mother. Prior to her death, Child lived with Mother. For a brief period after Mother's death, Child resided with Father, his roommate, and his roommate's daughter, in a hotel room in Belgrade, Montana. During this time, Father repeatedly called 911, used vulgar language, and received a citation for misusing the emergency system. On June 10, 2016, after Child stated that Father threatened to kill Child and Child's dogs, the Department removed Child from Father's care. The Department offered Father a voluntary protection plan to prevent Child's removal, but Father refused. Father became increasingly agitated after the Department removed Child, alleging that Mother's murder was part of a conspiracy to hide child abuse and remove Child from Father.

         ¶4 On September 9, 2016, following a contested adjudicatory hearing, the District Court adjudicated Child as a youth in need of care (YINC) within the meaning of § 41-3-102, MCA. At the hearing, Father testified that he believed everything was an interconnected conspiracy between the Department, law enforcement, his attorney, Child's guardian ad litem, Child's principal, and the District Court, dating back to his parenting plan with Mother. Father stated he had evidence that "everybody" falsified documents and tampered with recordings to cover up Mother's murder and child abuse by Child's step-father, C.W.[1] Child testified in chambers that she had a good relationship with C.W. and thought of him as family.

         ¶5 On October 31, 2016, the District Court granted temporary legal custody to the Department and approved and ordered Father to complete a treatment plan addressing the issues rendering Father unfit or unable to parent Child. The treatment plan required Father to complete specific tasks addressing Father's mental health issues, lack of safe and stable housing, and parenting skills, including his ability to support, communicate with, respect, and understand Child's developmental needs. Father submitted to a brief psychological evaluation with clinical psychologist, Dr. Chessen, and attended some family therapy sessions, but otherwise stated he would not engage in the tasks required by the treatment plan. Father believed the treatment plan was part of the conspiracy between the Department, law enforcement, and the District Court.

         ¶6 Father's July 29, 2016 psychological evaluation with Dr. Chessen revealed traits consistent with paranoid personality disorder. Dr. Chessen verified his diagnosis with retired psychologist Dr. Wagner, who had previously worked with Father and diagnosed him with paranoid personality disorder.

         ¶7 Family therapy sessions agitated Father. In therapy, Father focused his attention on past events. After Child refused to attend an August 18, 2016 therapy session with Father, Father left threatening messages on the therapist's voicemail. Thereafter, the therapist discontinued family therapy. Father did not complete any other tasks designed to address his mental health or improve his parenting skills.

         ¶8 Due to Father's lack of engagement and progress in completing the treatment plan, the Department filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights. The Department sought to terminate Father's parental rights on the basis that Father failed to complete his treatment plan and the conduct or condition rendering Father unfit to parent Child was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. See § 41-3-609(1)(f), MCA.

         ¶9 In November 2017, Father was charged with three counts of violating privacy in communications, a misdemeanor, pursuant to § 45-8-213, MCA, for repeatedly leaving Child Protection Specialist ...


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