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In re C.M.

Supreme Court of Montana

September 24, 2019

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

          Submitted on Briefs: August 14, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis And Clark, Cause No. BDN 2017-10 Honorable Michael F. McMahon, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Katy Stack, Stack & Kottke, PLLC, Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Leo Gallagher, Lewis and Clark County Attorney, Anne Peterson, Deputy County Attorney, Helena, Montana


          Jim Rice Justice

         ¶1 T.M. (Mother) appeals an order entered by the Montana First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, C.M. We affirm, and address the following issue:

Did the District Court err by terminating Mother's parental rights because the Department failed to provide reasonable efforts to reunite Mother with C.M. as required by § 41-3-423(1), MCA?


         ¶2 C.M. is the natural child of Mother and E.M. (Father). C.M. lived with Mother in the Helena area and had very little contact with Father throughout her life. In January of 2017, the Department of Public Health and Human Services (the Department) removed C.M. from her Mother's care. Between 2013 and C.M.'s removal, the Department received several reports expressing concern about Mother's care for C.M., including allegations of physical abuse, neglect, and drug use by Mother. Ultimately, the Department removed C.M. based on reports that Mother was using methamphetamines, had exposed C.M. to an absconded sex offender from Oregon, and planned to flee the state with the child. The Department determined Mother physically neglected C.M. by providing inadequate care for C.M.'s health, hygiene, and educational needs.

         ¶3 On April 6, 2017, C.M. was adjudicated a youth in need of care, and temporary legal custody was granted to the Department. C.M. was initially placed in kinship care in Helena, but was thereafter placed with Watson Children's Center in Missoula. Mother remained in the Helena area throughout the proceedings. The Department allowed Mother to call C.M. at any time and allowed visitation in Missoula on some holidays. Mother consistently called C.M. once or twice per week.

         ¶4 At the time of removal, C.M. was eleven years old but was mentally functioning at the level of a second-grade student, and had been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD. C.M.'s case manager at Watson described C.M. as socially immature, struggling with personal boundaries and hygiene. Watson staff worked with C.M. to remedy these behaviors to prepare her for future foster care placement. C.M. attended therapy sessions at Watson and participated in a life skills program in school to assist her development. C.M.'s case manager testified C.M. had matured during her time at Watson and was doing well in that placement.

         ¶5 On April 27, 2017, the District Court held a hearing on Mother's proposed treatment plan. Mother, represented by counsel, agreed to the plan's terms. The plan required Mother to complete several tasks, including: maintaining contact with the Department and C.M.; keeping the Department advised her current address; completing a parenting course and a domestic violence course; participating in a mental health evaluation; and addressing her chemical dependency through evaluation, treatment, and remaining chemically free. The Department later indicated Mother's chemical dependency was its primary concern.

         ¶6 However, on April 16, 2018, the Department filed a petition to terminate the rights of both of C.M.'s parents, alleging as to mother that she "has failed to successfully comply with the treatment plan and her conduct is unlikely to change within a reasonable time." C.M.'s Father voluntarily relinquished his parental rights, but Mother contested the termination of her rights.

         ¶7 On July 17, 2018, the District Court held a hearing on the termination of Mother's rights. Several witnesses testified regarding Mother's failure to comply with her treatment plan. A collection specialist who administered Mother's drug tests testified Mother provided 22 urine samples over six months, each of which tested positive for methamphetamines. The specialist also testified Mother had failed to appear for her scheduled testing on several occasions. Eric Gilmore, who completed Mother's chemical dependency evaluation, testified that, although he was initially inclined to recommend outpatient treatment for Mother based on her answers in his in-person evaluation, he ultimately recommended inpatient treatment. Gilmore explained his recommendation was based primarily on the "toxic" and "saturating" levels of methamphetamines shown on Mother's urinalysis testing. ...

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