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Logan B. v. Department of Child Safety

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

May 24, 2018

LOGAN B., Appellant,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SAFETY, J.B., I.B., Appellees.

          Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. JD530156 The Honorable Timothy J. Ryan, Judge

          Maricopa County Public Advocate, Mesa By David C. Lieb Counsel for Appellant

          Arizona Attorney General's Office, Tucson By Laura J. Huff Counsel for Appellee, Department of Child Safety

          Judge Jennifer B. Campbell delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Patricia A. Orozco joined. [1] Presiding Judge Michael J. Brown dissented.

          OPINION

          CAMPBELL, Judge

         ¶1 Logan B. ("Father") challenges the juvenile court's failure to make written findings in its order terminating his parental rights to his children J.B. and I.B. We hold that even if the court makes oral findings of fact on the record, a written termination order that recites only conclusions of law regarding the statutory grounds for termination and best interests is insufficient as a matter of law. Such an order fails to comply with the requirement in both Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 8-538(A) and Arizona Rule of Procedure for the Juvenile Court 66(F)(2)(A) that a termination order must contain written findings.[2]

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In July 2016 the Department of Child Safety ("DCS") filed a dependency petition alleging J.B. and I.B. (collectively, the "children") were dependent. DCS alleged substance abuse based on Father's use of heroin, marijuana, and morphine. DCS also alleged neglect because of Father's inability to provide the necessities of life for the children and because he cared for them while under the influence of drugs.[3] The court later adjudicated the children dependent.

         ¶3 In April 2017, DCS moved to terminate Father's parental rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment, A.R.S. § 8-533(B)(1), substance abuse, A.R.S. § 8-533(B)(3), and six months in an out-of-home placement, A.R.S. § 8-533(B)(8)(b). DCS also alleged termination was in the children's best interests.

         ¶4 Father later failed to appear for a pretrial conference. The juvenile court found Father's failure to appear was without good cause and granted DCS's motion to proceed with the termination hearing in absentia.

         ¶5 After receiving exhibits and hearing testimony presented by a DCS case manager, the juvenile court made findings of facts and conclusions of law by oral pronouncement on the record at the conclusion of the hearing. The juvenile court found DCS failed to prove abandonment but did prove the grounds of chronic substance abuse and out-of-home placement by clear and convincing evidence, and stated relevant factual findings. The court also found by a preponderance of evidence that termination of Father's parental rights was in the children's best interests, again providing its factual findings orally.

         ¶6 The juvenile court later entered a final written order terminating Father's parental rights to the children. The final order read as follows:

THE COURT FINDS by clear and convincing evidence that the State has proven the allegation of a history of chronic abuse of dangerous drugs and controlled substances with respect to [Father].
THE COURT FINDS beyond a preponderance of the evidence that it would be in the children's best interest[s] to sever the father's parental rights.

         The final order was devoid of any factual findings to support the legal conclusions about the statutory ground for termination or factual findings to justify that termination was in the children's best interests.[4]

         ¶7 Father timely appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. ยง 8-235(A) and Arizona Rule of ...


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