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In re J.G.H.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division

May 15, 2019

In the Interest of J.G.H., T.H.H., A.L.H., K.G.H., K.N.H., and J.H.
v.
GREENE COUNTY JUVENILE OFFICE, Respondent. A.L.H., Appellant,

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY HONORABLE CALVIN R. HOLDEN

          GARY W. LYNCH, J.

         In these consolidated appeals, A.L.H. ("Mother") appeals the trial court's judgments terminating her parental rights to six of her children: J.G.H., T.H.H., A.L.H., K.G.H., K.N.H., and J.H. (collectively "the children").[1] Mother claims the trial court abused its discretion in consolidating her six termination of parental rights ("TPR") cases for hearing. Because Mother has failed to demonstrate the trial court so abused its discretion, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The TPR petitions filed by the Greene County Juvenile Officer ("Petitioner") in each of the six TPR cases alleged that Mother and J.N.H. ("Father") were the biological parents of each child.[2] On January 25, 2018, Mother was given notice that all six TPR cases were set for hearing on May 2, 2018, at 8:30 a.m. On that morning, when the trial court called the cases, Petitioner made an oral motion to consolidate the six cases for hearing. Petitioner's counsel represented to the trial court that the local practice was to try these types of cases together, that the pleadings were the same in all of the petitions, and that the evidence would be the same for each case. Mother objected to the requested consolidation. As the basis for that objection, Mother's counsel stated to the court that "I think there are evidentiary issues that will arise if they are tried in one proceeding. There are matters that are hearsay as to -- for example, there's evidence in [J.G.H.'s] case that would be hearsay as to the other five children." In response to Mother's evidentiary concern, the trial court stated "that depends on how it's presented. And I'll make that decision as we go forward." The trial court denied Mother's consolidation objection and proceeded to hold a single consolidated hearing on all six cases.

         After three trial days of testimony generating a 456-page trial transcript, the trial court entered a judgment terminating Mother's parental rights in each TPR case. Mother timely appeals each judgment, raising a single point relied on in this consolidated appeal.

         Discussion

Mother claims that
The trial court erred in granting [Petitioner's] oral motion made on the morning of trial to consolidate the six (6) cases for hearing because doing so was an abuse of discretion in that Appellant suffered prejudice as she was 1) unable properly prepare trial strategy due to late consolidation and 2) unable to preserve her objection to hearsay statements of one or more children that would have been inadmissible in the remaining cases and 3) that findings related to sexual abuse supported by the inadmissible hearsay permeate the Court's findings for termination of parental rights.

         We disagree.

Rule 66.01(b)[3] provides:
Consolidation--Common Question of Law or Fact. When civil actions involving a common question of law or fact are pending before the court, it may order a joint hearing or trial of any or all the matters in issue in the civil actions; it may order all the civil actions consolidated; and it may make such orders concerning proceedings therein as may tend to avoid unnecessary costs or delay.

         Specifically related to TPR cases, section 211.452.2[4] provides:

If there is more than one child in the family and a termination of parental rights petition is being or has been prepared for each child, the court may join the cases for disposition in one proceeding; provided, however, that joinder of the ...

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