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Dominique M. v. Department of Child Safety

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

July 12, 2016

DOMINIQUE M., Appellant,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SAFETY, J.M., A.M., Appellees.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. JD18130 The Honorable Daniel G. Martin, Judge

          Law Office of Anne M. Williams, P.C., Mesa By Anne M. Williams Counsel for Appellant

          Arizona Attorney General's Office, Mesa By Nicholas Chapman-Hushek Counsel for Appellee Department of Child Safety

          Judge Lawrence F. Winthrop delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Randall M. Howe and Judge Jon W. Thompson joined.

          OPINION

          WINTHROP, Judge

         ¶1 Dominique M. ("Mother") appeals the juvenile court's order severing her parental rights to J.M. and A.M. (collectively "the Children"). Mother does not contest the finding of statutory grounds for severance, but contends the juvenile court erred in concluding severance was in the Children's best interests. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2 J.M. is a male child born in 2010, and A.M. is a female child born in 2013. Both came into care of the Department of Child Safety ("DCS") due to domestic violence, substance abuse, Mother's mental illness, and the then-ongoing severance proceedings of Mother's two other children. The trial court found J.M. and A.M. dependent as to Mother in August 2012 and September 2013, respectively.

         ¶3 DCS offered Mother an array of services and assistance designed to promote reunification, e.g., substance rehabilitation services, parental aide services, mental health treatment and counseling, and transportation. Mother, however, failed to fully comply and remained unable to discharge her parental responsibilities. She was still engaged in domestic violence. Mother also did not regularly participate in drug testing and, when she participated, she did not consistently test negative for illegal substances. Mother refused to take medication prescribed for her psychiatric and psychological conditions, instead relying on Benadryl and marijuana, for which she did not hold a valid medical marijuana card.

         ¶4 In September 2013, the Children's guardian ad litem moved to sever the parental relationship between Mother and the Children on the grounds of willful abuse, mental illness, chronic abuse of dangerous drugs, prior severance of parental rights for the same cause, [1] cumulative fifteen-month out-of-home placement, cumulative six-month out-of-home placement (for A.M. only), and asserted severance would serve the best interests of the Children. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. ("A.R.S.") § 8-533(B)(2), (3), (8)(b)-(c), (10).[2] After an adjudication, the juvenile court found DCS had met its burden of proving the various statutory grounds and that severing Mother's parental rights was in the Children's best interests.[3]

         ¶5 Mother timely appealed. We have appellate jurisdiction pursuant to the Arizona Constitution, Article 6, Section 9; A.R.S. § 8-235(A); and Rule 103(A) of the Arizona Rules of Procedure for the Juvenile Court.

         ANALYSIS

         ¶6 Mother appeals only the juvenile court's finding that severance of her parental rights was in the Children's best interests. On appeal, we do not reweigh evidence and will affirm the juvenile court's factual findings if supported by reasonable evidence. Denise R. v. Ariz. Dep 't of Econ. Sec, 221 Ariz. 92, 93-94, ¶ 4, 210 P.3d 1263, 1264-65 (App. 2009); Jesus M. v. Ariz. Dep't of Econ. Sec, 203 Ariz. 278, 282, ¶ 12, 53 P.3d 203, 207 (App. 2002).

         ¶7 Parental rights in the care, custody, and management of their children are fundamental, but not absolute. Kent K. v. Bobby M.,210 Ariz. 279, 284, ¶ 24, 110 P.3d 1013, 1018 (2005) (citing Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753 (1982); Michael J. v. Ariz. Dep't of Econ. Sec,196 Ariz. 246, 248, ΒΆΒΆ 11-12, 995 P.2d 682, 684 (2000)). Although fundamental, parental rights are not inviolate; a court may still sever those rights if it finds clear and convincing evidence of one of the statutory grounds for severance, and also finds by a preponderance of the evidence that severance is in ...


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