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In re A.J.C.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

December 26, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF: A.J.C.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Monroe County 16MN-JU00001 Honorable David C. Mobley

          ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, JUDGE.

         D.L.C. ("Father") appeals the judgment of the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court of Monroe County ("the trial court" or "the court") finding that under Missouri law, Father was statutorily prohibited from reuniting with his minor child, A.J.C., due to the nature of his prior criminal conviction. We reverse and remand.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Circumstances Giving Rise to the Trial Court's Jurisdiction over A.J.C.

         D.L.C. is the natural father of A.J.C., a daughter born on May 5, 2007. Father had physical custody of A.J.C. prior to the events giving rise to this appeal. On January 21, 2016, A.J.C. was taken into protective custody by the Children's Division and was subsequently placed in foster care with Father's parents.

         On April 8, 2016, the trial court entered its judgment finding A.J.C. a ward of the court and placing her under the jurisdiction of the trial court for supervision and treatment. The court found A.J.C. was in need of protective services due to Father's failure to provide proper care, custody, and support under section 211.031.1(1)(b) RSMo Supp. 2013.[2] It was specifically alleged that Father failed to provide A.J.C. with adequate housing, dress, and transportation to and from school.[3] Additionally, during its investigation of the allegations against Father, the Children's Division discovered marijuana in the family residence. Father was then required to take a drug test, which came back positive for THC and methamphetamines.

         B. Father's Motion for Release from Protective Custody and Subsequent Procedural Posture

         On May 31, 2016, Father filed a "motion for release from protective custody upon change of circumstances" ("motion for release from protective custody" or "Father's motion") arguing the reasons for protective custody had been rectified and that he should be reunited with his daughter.

         The trial court held a dispositional hearing on June 10, 2016. At the hearing, the court was presented evidence of Father's 1999 conviction for abuse of a child under section 568.060.1(2) RSMo 2000, [4] in which the victim was a seventeen-year-old girl. The Children's Division and the Juvenile Officer asserted the conviction prevented Father's reunification with A.J.C. under section 211.038.1(3) RSMo Supp. 2006.[5] As the evidence indicated Father's home was appropriate at that time and he was drug free, the trial court concluded the issues giving rise to its jurisdiction had been rectified, and thus, the main issue left before the court was whether reunification was barred due to Father's prior conviction. The trial court then took the matter under advisement and allowed the parties to submit briefs on the issue.

         On June 30, 2016, the trial court entered an order denying Father's motion for release from protective custody. The court's order suggested it was not convinced reunification was barred based on Father's prior conviction, but that it was erring on the side of caution by denying Father's motion for the time being.

         Subsequently, the Missouri Department of Social Services, on behalf of the Children's Division, filed a motion for reconsideration of application of section 211.038.1(3) ("the Children's Division's motion"). On February 17, 2017, the court heard additional argument on the issue of Father's prior conviction, and ultimately granted the Children's Division's motion as it found sections 211.038.1 and 568.060.1(2) prohibited the court from reuniting Father with A.J.C.

         On February 21, 2017, the trial court entered its order and judgment of disposition regarding abuse/neglect ("judgment"), which reflected its finding that the aforementioned statutes prevented Father's reunification with A.J.C. The court set its permanency plan for A.J.C. to be placed under guardianship with the paternal grandparents. Father appeals.

          II ...


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