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In re M.B.F.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

September 26, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF: M.B.F. JUVENILE OFFICER, Respondent,
v.
D.L. (Putative Father), Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable David M. Byrn, Judge

          Before: Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Presiding Judge, and Karen King Mitchell and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judges.

          KAREN KING MITCHELL, JUDGE.

         D.L. appeals from the juvenile court's adjudication regarding neglect of Child and its placement of Child in the custody of Children's Division. Though D.L. does not challenge the juvenile court's assumption of jurisdiction, he argues on appeal that the juvenile court erred in sustaining the Juvenile Officer's petition alleging neglect by D.L. because the evidence was insufficient to support that determination. In other words, D.L.'s only complaint is that the juvenile court erred in finding that he neglected Child, but he is not seeking to overturn the juvenile court's assumption of jurisdiction nor its order placing Child in custody of Children's Division. Because D.L. is not entitled to appeal this determination, his appeal is dismissed.

         Background

         Child was born on June 30, 2016. On July 12, 2016, the Juvenile Officer of Jackson County filed a two-count petition, alleging that Child was in need of care and treatment. Count I alleged that Child was "without proper care, custody and support necessary for her well-being and [wa]s subject to the jurisdiction of th[e juvenile c]ourt pursuant to [§] 211.031.1 RSMo in that the mother neglects the child." The petition then laid out numerous allegations demonstrating Mother's neglect, including Mother's neglect of Child's older sibling resulting in termination of Mother's parental rights to Child's older sibling, Mother's untreated mental illness, and Mother's lack of attempted contact with Child for the ten days preceding the filing of the petition. Count II alleged that Child was "without proper care, custody and support necessary for her well-being and [wa]s subject to the jurisdiction of th[e juvenile c]ourt pursuant to [§] 211.031.1 RSMo in that the father neglects the child." The petition alleged: "Specifically, the father has an extensive pattern of substance abuse and continues to use illegal substances, such that this child is at risk." The petition alleged that D.L. was Child's father.

         The juvenile court held a protective custody hearing on July 13, 2016, after which it determined:

Removal of the child is necessary to protect the child for the following reasons: The mother has a history of substance abuse and made several concerning statements indicating she was not mentally stable. The mother indic[a]ted that at the birth of the child she did not know she was pregnant despite having two positive pregnancy tests previously, the CIA and the government were after her and that there was a conspiracy to bring back slavery. The mother has previously been diagnosed with PTSD, Bipolar, Anxiety and Depression. The father has issues with substance abuse and has been stated by the psychiatrist at the hospital to utilize poor judgment and control. The doctor recommends assessments for both parents. The mother has another child that has been in state care in multiple states due to her refusal to protect the child from sexual abuse and moving in . . . with the perpetrator after the state case was closed. The mother's rights have terminated and a relative is adopting that child.

         On October 14, 2016, the juvenile court held an adjudication hearing wherein it received testimony from a Children's Division investigator, court records pertaining to D.L., hospital records pertaining to both Mother and Child, mental health records pertaining to Mother, and juvenile court records pertaining to Child's older sibling.[1] The investigator testified that Child's parents were Mother and D.L. She further testified that she interviewed D.L. about drug use, and D.L. indicated that he had a history of drug usage, including prior convictions; he indicated that his most recent use had been May 2016, and that he continually used drugs on and off for the prior nine years "during times when he was stressed." D.L. also indicated that he had another child whom he was not parenting. The investigator could not recall whether Mother indicated that D.L. was Child's father, whether D.L.'s name was on Child's birth certificate, whether any paternity testing had been conducted on D.L., or whether D.L. had claimed to be Child's father.

         At the close of evidence, the juvenile court heard arguments from counsel, and D.L.'s counsel argued that the Juvenile Officer had failed to present any evidence establishing that D.L. was actually Child's father:

MR. SUROFF: First, Your Honor, we have an issue as to whether [D.L.] is actually the father. I don't believe paternity testing has occurred. There is no evidence of that. There is no evidence of the birth certificate. There's no evidence beyond a man standing in a hospital room saying that he thinks he's the father. That's the only evidence we have.

         Following the hearing, the juvenile court issued an order finding that "[t]he evidence sustains the allegations of counts 1 and 2 by clear and convincing evidence." Regarding Count II, the court specifically found that D.L. had "a history of abuse of 'crack' cocaine that began in 2007. His last admitted use was in May of 2016. He uses drugs when he is under stress." It then recited D.L.'s prior drug-related convictions from 2002, 2003, and 2004. The court determined that "[c]ontinuation in the home is contrary to the juvenile's welfare" and it scheduled the matter for a disposition hearing.

         The disposition hearing was held November 2, 2016, wherein the court received a "social file" and testimony from a case management supervisor from Children's Division.[2] The case management supervisor testified that there was only one contact with both Mother and D.L. since Child was taken into custody, and that was by telephone during a family support team meeting in September, but the call was terminated by either Mother or D.L. as soon as the case worker identified herself. Neither Mother nor D.L. had visited Child at all. At the close of evidence, D.L.'s counsel again argued that there still was no evidence that D.L. was Child's father.

         After the hearing, the juvenile court adopted the findings and recommendations of the family court commissioner. Those findings initially modified the prior adjudication order in two respects, one of which was to indicate that "[D.L.] is a putative father, as no determination of paternity has been made as to him."[3] The court ordered Child committed to the custody of Children's Division, noting that "[r]emoval of the child was necessary because the mother's mental health issues and she and [D.L.'s] use of controlled substances placed the infant child at risk of harm in their care." The court further ordered Children's Division to provide various services to Mother, ordered that ...


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