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In re K.R.T.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

December 27, 2016

IN THE INTEREST OF: K.R.T., A.J.T. AND K.L.T.;
v.
K.T., Appellant. MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, CHILDREN'S DIVISION, Respondent,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable John M. Torrence, Judge

          Before: Thomas H. Newton, Presiding Judge, Cynthia L. Martin, Judge and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judge

          Cynthia L. Martin, Judge

         K.T. ("Father") appeals from the judgments terminating his parental rights to K.R.T., A.J.T., and K.L.T. (collectively "Children"). Father argues that the trial court was without jurisdiction to enter the judgments terminating his parental rights because the trial court did not have lawful jurisdiction over the Children in the underlying juvenile cases which preceded the termination of parental rights proceedings. Because Father's point on appeal constitutes an impermissible collateral attack on the judgments in the underlying juvenile cases, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural History[1]

         Father is the legal father of K.R.T., born March 5, 2008; A.J.T., born April 12, 2009; and K.L.T., born December 7, 2006. The Children were placed in the temporary legal custody of the Missouri Department of Social Services, Jackson County Children's Division ("Children's Division") on July 20, 2009, after A.J.G. ("Mother") took K.R.T. and K.L.T. to the hospital because she suspected that one or both had been sexually abused. On September 15, 2009, the Children were adjudicated by the trial court to have been abused or neglected in case numbers 0916-JU000992, 0916-JU000995, and 0916-JU000996.

         From September 15, 2009, to October 14, 2009, the Children were in the Children's Division's custody. On October 14, 2009, the Children were placed in the custody of their parental grandmother but remained under the supervision of the Children's Division. The Children were returned to the custody of the Children's Division on June 17, 2010, but remained placed with their parental grandmother. On September 3, 2010, the Children were placed in the custody of Father, but remained under the Children's Division's supervision. On August 17, 2011, the Children were ordered placed back into the custody of the Children's Division after Father was alleged to have improperly allowed his girlfriend and her children to reside with him, to have moved out of the county with the Children, and to have failed to maintain contact with the Children's Division. The Children's Division thereafter also alleged that Father had attempted to steal fuel from parked school buses with the Children present.

         At a subsequent hearing, the Children's Division amended its allegations against Father to rely solely on the fact that Father had been charged with stealing fuel from parked buses in the presence of the Children. On April 12, 2012, the trial court entered a judgment awarding custody of the Children to the Children's Division. The Children remained in foster care where they had been placed since their removal from Father's custody on August 17, 2011.

         The Children's Division filed petitions to terminate Father's parental rights on May 21, 2015, in case numbers 1516-JU000541, 1516-JU000542, and 1516-JU000543.[2]The petitions alleged Father's parental rights should be terminated because: (i) the Children had been abandoned by Father for a period of six months or longer;[3] (ii) the Children had been abused or neglected[4] because, on September 15, 2009, Father stipulated that the children were without proper custody, support, or care for their well-being in that he neglected and failed to protect the Children; (iii) that the Children had been under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court for more than one year, and the conditions which led to the assumption of jurisdiction still persist, or conditions of a potentially harmful nature continue to exist, and there is little likelihood that those conditions would be remedied so that the Children could return to Father or the continuation of the parent-child relationship greatly diminishes the Children's prospects for integration into a permanent and stable home;[5] and (iv) that Father is unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship due to a consistent pattern of specific abuse that renders Father unable to care appropriately for the ongoing, physical, mental, or emotional needs of the Children.[6]

         Following a trial, the trial court entered its judgments ("Judgments") terminating Father's parental rights to the Children and ordering that the custody and placement of the Children remain as previously ordered in the juvenile cases. The Judgments stated that the trial court had jurisdiction pursuant to section 211.452 because the trial court had "prior and continuing jurisdiction over the Children as set forth in Jackson County Juvenile Court case numbers 0916-JU000992, 0916-JU000995, and 0916-JU000996." The trial court found that the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt[7] that there were grounds for terminating Father's parental rights to Children pursuant to sections 211.447.5(2), (3) and (6), and that termination of Father's parental rights was in the Children's best interest.

         Father appeals.

         Analysis

         Father raises a single point on appeal. He does not challenge the trial court's findings that grounds exist to terminate his parental rights pursuant to sections 211.447.5(2), (3), or (6). And Father does not challenge the trial court's determination that termination of his parental rights was in the best interest of the Children. Instead, Father challenges the trial court's finding that it had jurisdiction to hear the termination of parental rights proceedings pursuant to section 211.452 because the trial court had "prior and continuing jurisdiction over the Children as set forth in Jackson County Juvenile Court case numbers 0916-JU000992, 0916-JU000995, and 0916-JU000996." Specifically, Father argues that the trial court's assumption of jurisdiction over the Children on August 17, 2011, was not lawful because it was based upon a stealing charge that was later dismissed, and as to which Father was not found guilty. "Because the question here is one of jurisdiction, it is an issue of law, and our review is de novo." Gosserand v. Gosserand, 230 S.W.3d 628, 631 (Mo. App. W.D. 2007).

         Father's notices of appeal were filed in his termination of parental rights proceedings, case numbers 1516-JU000541, 1516-JU000542, and 1516-JU000543, and purport to challenge the Judgments entered in those proceedings. The only finding in those Judgments about which Father complains is the finding in paragraph 2 that the trial court has "jurisdiction over [the termination of parental rights proceedings] pursuant to section 211.452." That section provides, in pertinent part, that "[t]he petition for termination of parental rights shall be filed in the juvenile court which has prior jurisdiction over the child." Section 211.452.1. Father does not contest that, in fact, his termination of parental rights proceedings were filed in the juvenile court which had prior jurisdiction over the ...


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