Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division
IN THE INTEREST OF: A.C.G.
A.G. (Natural Mother), Appellant. JUVENILE OFFICER and DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, CHILDREN'S DIVISION, Respondents,
from the Circuit Court of Benton County, Missouri The
Honorable Michael O. Hendrickson, Judge
Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Presiding, and James
Edward Welsh and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judges
D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge
("Mother") appeals from the Judgment of the Circuit
Court of Benton County, Missouri, Juvenile Division
("trial court"), terminating her parental rights to
her daughter, A.C.G. We affirm.
and Procedural Background
has three children, one of whom is A.C.G., born July 17,
2010. In early March 2012, the Department of Social Services,
Children's Division ("Children's
Division"), was notified that Mother and A.C.G.'s
father ("Father") had appeared in court as a result
of a custody dispute and both had tested positive for drugs.
The court ordered that Mother and Father were not to have
contact with A.C.G. until they had clean urine analyses.
Ultimately, A.C.G. was brought into the protective custody of
the Children's Division and was placed in a foster home,
where she has remained ever since.
1, 2012, the Benton County circuit court held an adjudication
hearing regarding the alleged abuse and neglect of A.C.G.
With Mother's consent, the court assumed jurisdiction
over A.C.G. A.C.G. was ordered a ward of the court, with a
goal of reunification.
last contact Mother had with A.C.G. was in February 2013. The
last contact Mother had with A.C.G.'s foster mother
regarding visits or communication with A.C.G. was in July
2013. Finally, in December 2013, the Children's Division
recommended changing the goal from reunification to
termination. Mother did not maintain contact with the
Children's Division in order to facilitate visits with
A.C.G., and Mother's whereabouts were unknown until April
20, 2014, the Children's Division filed a petition to
terminate Mother's parental rights to A.C.G. pursuant to
section 211.447,  alleging abuse and/or neglect and failure
to rectify. On August 21, 2015, and September 1, 2015, the
trial court held a termination of parental rights hearing
("TPR hearing"). Thereafter, the trial court
entered judgment terminating Mother's parental rights to
A.C.G. The trial court based termination on three
grounds: (1) abandonment, § 211.447.5(1)(b); (2)
neglect, § 211.447.5(2); and (3) failure to rectify,
§ 211.447.5(3). The trial court also found that
termination would be in A.C.G.'s best interests, §
appeals and argues that the trial court's judgment as to
abandonment was against the weight of the evidence. Mother
also argues that the trial court erred in failing to take
judicial notice of two Jackson County, Missouri, circuit
court cases concerning her other two children.
Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30 (Mo. banc 1976), we
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 it erroneously declares or applies
the law. The judgment will be reversed only if we are left
with a firm belief that the order is wrong." Greene
Cty. Juvenile Office v. D.G.R. (In the Interest of
J.A.R.), 426 S.W.3d 624, 626 (Mo. banc 2014).
Conflicting evidence will be reviewed in the light most
favorable to the trial court's judgment. Appellate courts
will defer to the trial court's credibility assessments.
When the evidence poses two reasonable but different
inferences, [we are] obligated to defer to the trial
court's assessment of the evidence.
. . . .
After [we] determine[ ] that one or more statutory ground has
been proven by clear, convincing, and cogent evidence, [we]
must ask whether termination of parental rights was in the
best interest of the child. At the trial level, the standard
of proof for this best interest inquiry is a preponderance of
the evidence; on appeal, the standard of review is abuse of
Id. (internal quotation omitted). "Evidence is
clear, cogent and convincing, if it instantly tilts the
scales in favor of termination when weighed against the
evidence in opposition and the finder of fact is left with
the abiding conviction that the evidence is true."
Juvenile Officer v. C.E.F. (In the Interest of
S.M.F.), 393 S.W.3d 635, 643 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013)
(internal quotation omitted). "This standard may be
satisfied even when evidence contrary to the trial
court's finding is presented or the evidence might
support a different conclusion." In the Interest of
S.Y.B.G., 443 S.W.3d 56, 59 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014). The
"best interest" determination, which is reviewed
for an abuse of discretion, is a subjective assessment based
on the totality of the circumstances. Id. "An
abuse of discretion occurs only when the trial court's
ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and
[is] so unreasonable and arbitrary that it shocks the sense
of justice and indicates a lack of careful, deliberate
consideration." Id. (internal quotation
courts act with caution in exercising the power to set aside
a . . . judgment on the ground that it is against the weight
of the evidence." Ivie v. Smith, 439 S.W.3d
189, 205 (Mo. banc 2014). "[A] claim that the judgment
is against the weight of the evidence presupposes that there
is sufficient evidence to support the judgment."
Id. (internal quotation omitted). "In other
words, 'weight of the evidence' denotes an appellate
test of how much persuasive value evidence has, not just
whether sufficient evidence exists that tends to prove a
necessary fact." Id. at 206. "The
against-the-weight-of-the-evidence standard serves only as a
check on a circuit court's potential abuse of power in
weighing the evidence, and an appellate court will reverse
only in rare cases, when it has a firm belief that the decree
or judgment is wrong." Id. When reviewing the
record in an against-the-weight-of-the-evidence challenge, we
defer to the circuit court's findings of fact when the
factual issues are contested and when the facts as found by
the circuit court depend on credibility determinations.
Id. Under this standard of review, "the circuit
court is free to believe all, some, or none of the evidence
offered to prove a contested fact." Id. "A
circuit court's judgment is against the weight of the
evidence only if the circuit court could not have reasonably
found, from the record at trial, the existence of a fact that
is necessary to sustain the judgment." Id. When
two reasonable but different conclusions may be drawn from
the evidence, appellate courts must defer to the circuit
court's assessment of that evidence. Id.
review a decision to admit or exclude evidence for an abuse
of discretion." Juvenile Officer v. F.D.
(In the Interest of S.F.M.D.), 447 S.W.3d 758, 767
(Mo. App. W.D. 2014) (internal quotation omitted). "An
abuse of discretion occurs when the court's decision is
clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is so
arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice
and indicate a lack of careful consideration."
Id. (internal quotation omitted).
we address Mother's first point in which she asserts that
the trial court erred in not taking judicial notice of two
cases in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri,
involving Mother's other two children.
TPR hearing, Mother's counsel asked the trial court to
take judicial notice of the two Jackson County cases. Counsel
asked the trial court to electronically access the files on
Case.net and take judicial notice of whatever could be
viewed. The attorney for the Children's Division objected
based on lack of relevancy and on section 211.321.1, which
governs the disclosure of juvenile records. The trial court
refused to take judicial notice of the Jackson County case
211.321 governs Missouri's juvenile court records, the
confidentiality of those records, and exceptions to
Missouri's general policy of confidentiality."
Mason v. State, 368 S.W.3d 182, 186 (Mo. App. W.D.
2012). Section 211.321.1 provides, in pertinent part, that
"[r]ecords of juvenile court proceedings as well as all
information obtained and social records prepared in the
discharge of official duty for the court shall not be open to
inspection or their contents disclosed, except by order of
the court to persons having a legitimate interest
therein." Documents in juvenile court records "are
confidential absent an order of the judge of the juvenile
court." State ex rel. S.M.H. v. Goldman, 140
S.W.3d 280, 282 (Mo. App. E.D. 2004). "[W]hether or not
a party has a legitimate interest in the contents of the
records of the juvenile court varies from case to case[, ]
and the question is one to be decided by the juvenile court
in its discretion, being guided by the policy considerations
underlying Section 211.321 and other provisions of the
juvenile code." Id. at 283. "The general
policy of the juvenile code is to hold the records of
juvenile proceedings inviolate." Id. Clearly,
section 211.321.1 is a specific statute protecting the
confidentiality of the records of juvenile court proceedings
and providing the procedure for disclosure.
other hand, section 490.130 is a general statute relating to
the admissibility of court records into evidence. Section
490.130 provides in pertinent part:
Records of proceedings of any court of this state contained
within any statewide court automated record-keeping system
established by the supreme court shall be received as
evidence of the acts or proceedings in any court of this
state without further certification of the clerk, provided
that the ...