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M.T.E.H. v. Greene County Juvenile Office

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

June 24, 2015

In the Interest of: M.T.E.H., M.E.H., Natural Father, Appellant,

Page 384


CANYON H. MOODY, Springfield, MO, for Appellant.

BRITTANY O'BRIEN, Springfield, MO, for Respondent.




Page 385

In an October 2014 judgment, the trial court terminated all parental rights in, to, and over M.T.E.H., a seven-year-old child (" Child" ), under section 211.447.[1] Child's father, M.E.H. (" Father" ), appeals the portions of the judgment that terminated his rights.[2] Father's first, third, and fourth points allege, respectively, that it was against the weight of the evidence for the trial court to find that: (1) Father abandoned Child; (2) Father failed to rectify conditions that were potentially harmful or that caused Child to be taken into care such that Child could not be returned to him " in the near future" (" failure to rectify" ); and (3) Father's " actions and conditions" demonstrated a negative impact on Child and presented a danger of " future harm" to Child. Father's second point asserts that the trial court erred in finding " that [Child] had been abused and/or neglected by [Father]" based upon Father's mental condition, chemical dependency, and " continued failure by [him] to provide for [Child] with adequate clothing, shelter or education[.]"

Finally, Father claims the trial court abused its discretion in finding that termination was in the best interest of Child as Father had " maintained visitation and contact with [Child] when [it was] allowed by the [trial] court[,]" made " in-kind contributions to [Child,]" and had " shown an increased interest and commitment [to] reunification."

We reject Father's error claims regarding abandonment, the impact of his actions on Child, the risk of future harm to Child, and whether termination was in Child's best interest. As a result, we affirm the portions of the judgment that terminated Father's parental rights.

Applicable Principles of Review and Governing Law

Sections 211.447.5(1)-(6) and .6 allow the termination of parental rights over a particular child based upon grounds that include: (1) abandonment; (2) abuse or neglect; and (3) failure to rectify. Although a trial court may find that multiple grounds for termination have been met, the affirmation of any one of those challenged grounds on appeal makes it unnecessary to address any additional grounds. In re K.A.W., 220 S.W.3d 310, 318 (Mo. App. S.D. 2007).

A reviewing court will affirm the trial court's judgment unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence or erroneously declares or applies the law. In re Adoption of C.M.B.R., 332 S.W.3d 793, 815 (Mo. banc 2011). The trial court's judgment will only be reversed if this Court is left with a firm conviction that the judgment is wrong. Id.
An appellate court reviews conflicting evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's judgment. Id. The reviewing court defers to the factual findings and credibility determinations made by the trial court. Id. If the evidence

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presents two reasonable but different inferences, the reviewing court considers the inference in the light most favorable to the judgment. Id.

In re Q.A.H., 426 S.W.3d 7, 12 (Mo. banc 2014).

If the trial court finds that at least one statutory ground supports termination, it must then consider whether termination " is in the best interests of the child. On that question . . . the standard of review on appeal is abuse of discretion." In re P.L.O., 131 S.W.3d 782, 789 (Mo. banc 2004).

Facts and Procedural Background

The trial of this matter took place over the course of three days in August and September 2014. We summarize the relevant facts in accordance with our obligation to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment, Q.A.H., 426 S.W.3d at 12, and we discuss any facts that are unfavorable to the judgment only to provide context for Father's error claims.[3]

An investigations supervisor for the Children's Division (" the Division" ), Charlotte Nolan, testified that near the end of November 2012, she " receive[d] a hotline report that involved allegations relating to [Mother] and her children[.]" The reporter claimed that four children were " found on the crossroads of the Kansas Expressway and Kearney, dodging traffic," when " a family friend" picked them up in her car. It had also been reported that the children " had been at different stores stealing items." At the time of these reports, the Division had already received reports about other incidents. One of these incidents involved Child, " who was five at the time, riding his bike alone at night[,] and almost getting hit by a car." Another incident involved an officer responding to the home at 11:30 p.m. in mid-November 2012 and discovering " all of the five oldest children alone in the home[.]" [4]

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Ms. Nolan also recalled that Father and Mother were present at a " 72-hour meeting" held after Child was taken into protective custody. Father appeared " frustrated" and was " uncooperative." " [H]e indicated that he also knew where [one of the other children being sought for protective custody] was, but he was only concerned about [Child]. Father asked that Child be placed with him, his estranged wife, or " a girlfriend[.]" Ms. Nolan discussed with Father his " history of substance abuse" and that " he was currently on ...

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